The Start: A 16-Hour Drive
I’m going to be honest: before getting to Halifax, I knew very little about the geographical location of Nova Scotia, aside from it being a location in Canada. After saying goodbye to friends and family, especially my godmother who is due with her second child (who I will meet when I get back) and my grandfather who is terminally ill, and who I have come to believe will not be there when I get back (the things you sacrifice for travel), my family and I made our way up to meet the MV Explorer, the place that I will call home for the next four months.
After a nearly 20 hour drive through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and New Brunswick, my family and I finally arrived in Nova Scotia. Needless to say, it would have been easier to take a plane, but aside from the possibility of packing more things, the drive provided us with quite a few interesting pit stops and a scenic landscape along the way.
Tonight, I joined about 100 other ‘sasers’, who thanks to Facebook were able to meet at a nearby club in Halifax…After a rapid and continuos exchange of “Hi, I’m _______. Where are you from?”, I was immediately amazed by the geographic diversity of the crowd. I can’t wait to go beyond that and to get to know the diverse thoughts of these amazing individuals.
Tomorrow ( later on this morning at 10 am), I board the ship, waving goodbye to a glorious past, and looking forward to a beautiful future. – The earliness of my embarkation did not stop me or the 100 others who went to The Dome tonight. There, we introduced each other, immediately joining each other in dance, especially when the song ‘We are Young” came on, uniting everyone on the dance floor, who proceeded to shout the lyrics in a synonymous understanding. And on that note, the journey begins.
Reveling at the First Sight of Land
In all honesty, when I thought about my itinerary for Semester at Sea, I was not as excited for Ireland as I should have been, partly because I had already been to the two cities that were on the itinerary and partly because I was too consumed with thought about actually boarding and preparing myself for life on the ship that I guess I almost forgot that we would actually be traveling.
Last time I was in Ireland was two years ago when I went as a senior with my high school. Needless to say, traveling as a minor meant no alcohol, and not that it made all the difference, but it definitely made a big difference: the ability to be at places before restricted to me is enough to open the doors to an entirely new world (country).
Upon arrival, my friends and I made our way to the hostel in Galway where we would be staying that night, definitely a quaint and homey atmosphere: it is run by a lady who lives there as well and who decided that it was her duty as ‘hostel mom’ and retired tour guide to tell us where to go and what to do, the perks of choosing immersion instead of luxury.
After settling in, most of the group departed for a tour to the Cliffs of Moher. Having been there before, I decided to stay and go on a walking tour instead with my newly made friends, Andrea, Francesco, and Joyce.
After a wonderful stroll through the touristy areas of Galway, we decided to listen to the locals and to travel to the coastal region of the city where a beautiful view of the shore, the city, and even our home, the MV Explorer, paved the way to a lovely two hours.
Before long, it was time for dinner and a pub-crawl … don’t worry, Guinness is definitely not my cup of tea, so I definitely didn’t go too crazy!
The following morning, we awoke early enough to make it to the Aran Islands, where my travel buddies from the day before invited me to. Despite the somewhat chilly weather, the beauty of the island spoke for itself. We took a small jet from the coast to the isolated land which houses just about 1000 people, has one supermarket, and a single bank that opens one day of the week.
The first home on the island… more than 2000 years old
The secluded land housed a fortress, preceding Biblical times, which is the main attraction of the island. What made it for me, however, was the preservation of culture on the island: Gaelic is still the primary language that is spoken. The seclusion of the island certainly promotes a sense of community, driven by a need for collaboration and cooperation. I realized that this, however, is certainly not particular to the Aran Islands, as this is no exception to what I experienced in the Irish culture in general.
Shortly after our venture to the Aran Islands, we literally ran to and from our hostel, as we hurried to catch our last train to Dublin.
Thanks to the wonderful people that I was with and their affiliations in Dublin, I was able to have a place to stay that night: all of the hotels/hostels in Dublin were completely filled due to the largest influx of tourists, both national and international, coming to the Notre Dame soccer game against the U.S. Navy. Otherwise, I would have had to resort to my original plan of sleeping with other ‘hostel-less’ SASers at the airport or the main train station.
On the following day, I decided to take up Joyce on the offer of joining the crew for Dublin’s largest music festival, Electric Picnic. Despite my original hesitation, I am more than happy that I decided to go. It was just absolutely mesmerizing: I only knew two of the bands that performed that evening (Bombay Bicycle Club and The Killers) who were amazing. But what really made it for me was the scenery and the people who formed part of that environment. There were thousands of people, most of who had been camping out for days; between performances, the campers entertained themselves at the various tents and international food stands that decorated the campgrounds with beautiful manifestations of human art.
After heading back to Dublin at around 3am, we decided to retreat to our mutual home, the MV Explorer, to attempt to rest up, aka nap for about two hours before heading back out for a final venture in Dublin: a visit to the Guinness factory. Considering my un-acquired taste for the beverage, the beer tasting was not my favorite part of the tour. However, I was interested to see how Arthur Guinness was able to expand his family’s trade on a national and global scale starting with a small inheritance of 100 pounds, forming an eternal part of Irish tradition.
After an amazing time in Ireland, I have definitely come to an underlying realization, truth be told: no matter how many times you go to a certain place, it always has something new and beautiful to offer. I’m glad that I was reminded of this, and I hope to not make the same mistake of thinking otherwise ever again!
Having been to London, I did not have any concrete plans: this time, I was coming back, letting the British wind take me where it pleased. A day before port, I took my friend Alanna up on the offer of staying with her and the people she was traveling with at a hostel in London.- for $20 a night, why not?
After a two-hour bus ride from our port in Southampton to London and then getting lost in the city on our way to the hostel, we chose to slow down and revamp before deciding on any other events for the evening. This four hour decision making process ended us up in Piccadilly Circus, which reminded me greatly of Times Square, vibrant and theatrical in all it’s forms; it even had an M&M store!…reductionist I know
At Piccadilly, we decided on going to an Ice Bar, where you are offered drinks in cups made of ice, at a bar contained inside an igloo…it took a while for me to figure out why I had decided to pay to not feel my toes, but a few crazy pictures and good laughs made me forget that our time was limited inside the frozen vestibule.
On the following day, we had every intention of going on a free walking tour, and I say intention because we definitely did not plan on losing the group that we were with: our thirst got to three of us, who decided could catch up to the group if we stopped to get water- of course, we were wrong. But it was ok! – We ended up at an international market right in the heart of the city, which made it seem out of place but simultaneously part of the beauty of London. Afterwards, we had a picnic in one of London’s many parks, over which we decided to purchase tickets at a half-off booth to watch one of London’s ‘Westend’ plays… the decision that took much longer than that was figuring out what play to watch. Four girls and a few hours later = four tickets to see Billy Elliott.
In my opinion, the show lacked vocal forte on the part of some of the actors, but then again, the musical was centered on dancing, which was absolutely fantastic! Shortly after the play ended, we met up with the guys who were staying with us at the hostel for something a bit more ‘up their alley’ a.k.a. going to one of London’s many clubs. In fact, thanks to one of the street promoters, we were able to get a ‘yay you’re a tourist’ deal at one of the clubs, so we got to go to two for the price of one! For only four pounds, the clubs were amazingly situated; one of them offered us a view of London’s beautiful skyline, including the London Eye.
After getting back to our hostel at 4 am, it was probably a good decision to stay in until 1pm the next day, when all of us eventually decided to get up and make our way into the city for some unplanned strolling, which ended us up at the London Bridge and an international food market.
After our afternoon venture, the group split, some to get ready for a night out at one of London’s reggae clubs, and others like my new friend, Melissa and I, seeking to continue our relaxation at a local coffee shop and ending our day at one of London’s comedy clubs. On our way there, I met a tourist from India who was asking me for directions to Soho, luckily the area around the Ice Bar where we had been two nights before. She ended up taking the same bus as Melissa and I, during which she informed us of her vacation time in London and how she decided to leave the family that she was staying with there and travel alone instead. Knowing this, I decided to invite her with us to the Comedy Club that night, which turned out to be AMAZING: I was laughing until I couldn’t feel my cheeks anymore. Perhaps, the most interesting thing related to that night was the email that I received from our friend who joined us that evening: “Hello Melissa, Earlene Its me Prabh. Remember?? If u r on facebook my name … princess kaur …”
After a wonderful evening the day before with our new friend, Princess Kaur, Melissa and I decided to get up really early to head back towards the ship to Southampton, but before then decided to stop along the way to see Stonehenge, one of the ancient wonders of the world: bad idea. Because we miscalculated our time, we ended up having to ask people for rides back to the ship… after 15 denials, I overheard a Spanish speaking family, who I decided sounded approachable. After explaining our story, particularly how being late on the ship meant getting dock time (not being able to leave the ship in the next port for up to an entire day), the family agreed to drive us one hour to Southampton for 40 pounds. Although we did not escape dock time, 3 minutes late= 2 hours staying on the ship in Belgium, the family got us back to the boat, which at such a time of desperation, when your heart becomes a drum at the brink of explosion, meant the world to me.
Lesson of the trip: don’t forget the value of time, but if you do, there are nice people in this world to help orient you… at least one in fifteen.
After settling in, my roommate, Shelby, and I decided to go on a stroll through the town where we had dinner at one of the restaurants that overlooked ‘the Caldera’, the Santorini Cliffside.
Before dinner, something convinced me that it was a good idea to spend 10 minutes having my feet ‘cured’ by small fish, a sort of ancient spa therapy tradition performed by the Turk where they allow the fish to literally eat the dead skin off of their bodies… After laughing hysterically and cringing with the guilty pleasure of being tickled by these fish, I eventually got somewhat comfortable with the idea. Since we had the night free of any group plans, Shelby and I decided to experience the Santorini ‘night life’; however, both of us made what I believe to be a typical American mistake of getting ready and going out by 11pm… Needless to say, since most Europeans don’t go out until at least 12am, we did not find much going on and decided to go back to the hotel just after treating ourselves with (Greek <3) frozen yogurt –not complaining about that! The following morning, we took a kaikis (local fishing boats) to the lava islet of Nea Kameni where we hiked to the crater of an active volcano…it wasn’t as red and flaming as I had expected; in fact, it was more gray than anything else, but beautiful just the same.
Afterward, we sailed toward the thermal springs at Palea Kameni where the boat anchored for half an hour while we swam in the semi-warm waters…my favorite part was covering myself with the mud that was around the rocks of the springs. I was among at least thirty others who took advantage of a free spa treatment
After our return to the port, and after getting over my sympathy for the donkeys that were literally being recycled and reused as transportation up the steep hill for hundreds of tourists each day, I decided to pay the 5 euros to ride one up. To my surprise, there was no one there to hold on to you as you climbed- the donkeys acutely knew their way up, so much so, that mine decided to race up the hill against my roommate’s donkey. – Quite frankly, had I not held onto the saddle with all my life, I may have never been seen again.
Following a wonderful dinner, we took the 5-hour ferry back to Athens where our sleepiness overcame our desire to attempt to go out again. On our last day, we went on a panoramic city tour of Athens and the Acropolis, including the Parthenon and other temples/statues that were only known to me before in pictures. After our tour, we had a few hours of free time; for me this meant rushing to find a snow globe and a post card and getting my last scoop of Greek frozen yogurt…a perfect ending for me. ❤
Considering the fact that I was detained on the ship for two hours, while everyone vacated the ship, I decided to make use of my time to take pictures of the ship (to show you guys what it looks like) and of Belgium from the ship. Dock time wasn’t bad at all, not that I will risk it again, but Stonehenge was totally worth it.
Anyway, after finally leaving the ship at 10:30 am, I decided to stroll the city on my own. A horse carriage leaving the port filled with tourists headed towards the city looked promising, so I followed it.
After being lead to what I believed was the center of town, I decided to stop at a café and read the map that I had been given before I continued any further on my own. About twenty minutes later, I heard my name being called: it was a fellow shipmate, Brooke, who invited me to join her and the group on a venture through town. This ended us up in various of the city’s thrift shops (Antwerp is known as the fashion capital of Belgium), where I purchased two full bags of vintage sweaters/ maxi skirts for a whole 20 euros.
A few too many Belgian fries, waffles, and scoops of ice cream later, we decided to head back to the ship to get ready for a night out in Antwerp. Considering the fact that I had to be ready for my trip to Greece by 7 am the following day, it probably wasn’t the best idea, but I had a great time bonding with what felt like the entire shipboard community outside of the ship. It was really interesting to see all of us in a ‘real life’ social environment, especially as it relates to alcohol consumption. Quite frankly, sometimes I understand why Americans have such a bad reputation abroad…
After several snoozes of my alarm, I finally got up to meet my about 40 others who had signed up for trips to Greece during the time we had in Belgium -see “Greece” post.
Once I was back from Greece, I had one last night and day in Belgium. After dropping off my luggage at the ship, I went out into town where I pretty much ran into the entire SAS community for one last Belgium hoorah. My friends and I ended up at a Raggae club, where I danced until 3 am before I decided to head back to the ship. I didn’t end up getting back on the ship until about 4 am though because as I was walking back, I ran into another shipmate who said he was at the local salsa club… of course, I followed him back there, pretty much dancing until they closed.
I decided to spend the next day with my friend Alanna in Ghent, a small town an hour train ride away from Antwerp. I really enjoyed the communal feel of the village: it seemed like everyone was out and about in the town that Saturday morning.
Amidst the many cafés and plazas as well as Ghent’ s very own castle (not uncommon for a village in Europe), a music festival was taking place, but it wasn’t an average music festival: this one was taking place in the middle of the river that flowed through the town. With a stage set up in the water, the only way to ‘reach’ the festival was by paying to rent our your very own boat where you would stay for the duration of the evening- genious.
I wish that we would have had time to experience the festival, but not wanting to risk dock time again, we hurried back to the train station, making it back on the ship just 15 minutes before boarding time ended. – Alanna and I did however, make sure that we had enough time for our last ‘taste of Belgium’, we shared fries, and I had my last Belgian ice-cream, a (lavender) flower based concoction, which was definitely different than anything I had ever tasted before.
And just like its gastronomy, I found that Belgium itself definitely has its own unique flavor.
The locals weren’t kidding when they said that watching the sunrise over the Lisbon horizon would be a sight worth seeing. Without having left the ship, I had already fallen in love with Portugal.
I left the ship with close to 15 girls, whom I knew would eventually split up. One thing that I have learned in life, it is that unless one is on a guided tour, traveling in large groups is never successful.
Sure enough, within 15 minutes of having left the ship, the group split in two over the decision of either a. touring the city or b. spending the day at the beach. I was happy with my decision to explore the city, which led us to a free photography museum, the historical part of town, an amazing outdoor cafe for lunch, and a free tower that rendered us great views of Lisbon.
After our venture around town, at around 3pm, we headed to the beach where we me up with the girls that had left us earlier. There we all lingered, talking and opening up about anything and everything: it’s unbelievable how quickly a person can become friends with those who were complete strangers just three weeks ago when placed in a situation that I consider to be an alternate reality.
I headed back to the ship before most of the girls to attempt to get over my migraine before our plans to salsa that evening: somehow, my 30 minute nap turned out to be two hours, so I woke up in a panic, sending ‘save me I’m still in my room emails’ to all of my friends.
Luckily, they were still on the ship when I emailed them, and I literally got ready in 10 minutes before heading back into town. A few great hours of dance and socialization later, I was back on the ship in one of the lounges talking about the occurrences of the evening, none of which were out of the ordinary, but all of which were pretty interesting.
The following morning, we awoke for a one hour train ride into the ancient village of Sintra, which housed a total of four castles. My friends and I eventually split over which castle to see during our limited time there, so I ended up hiking up alone to the Pena castle, especially because I remembered seeing it in the book that my roommate Bridget gave me before the trip -no regrets. It is absolutely the most beautiful castle I have ever seen. It’s perfect balance of light and darkness, the spacious courtyards, the elegant yet relaxed feel, and the beautiful view it offered from its windows, definitely made it for me.
After leaving Sintra, we headed to a beach town called Caiscais where some of my friends decided to spend the afternoon on the beach; I decided to call my mom and to finally update my blog instead.
That night, we literally stayed out until the next morning, spending the night dancing and talking to locals, mostly with Chris, the couch surfer that my friend was staying with in Lisbon. At 6 am, we returned to the ship just in time for breakfast over our last Lisbon sunrise, after which I went to bed and did not get back up until 2pm that day.
For our last day in Portugal, my friends and I decided to take an organizational day in Lisbon to have one last late lunch there together, just sitting and talking for hours (well for the four hours that we had) before boarding and yet again leaving another port behind- and just like a passing wind or a strike of lighting, with just a blink if an eye, Portugal graced us with its beauty, leaving us with nothing but wonderful memories.
Coming to Spain for the first time, I couldn’t wait to actually be able to soak in the beauty of Spain while actually being able to verbally communicate with the people who formed a part of it.
Having heard of the incomparable beauty of Barcelona, Alanna and I decided to make that our first stop in Spain – we literally figured out our itinerary the night before, ordering nothing but our flights because of our limited internet resources on the ship, and having the rest up in the air.
After our porting in Cadiz, we decided to head to Sevilla where we would be flying out of the next day. On the train there, we crossed paths with another ship mate, Ashley who planned to go to a bull fight that evening- it turned out to be THE bull fight, as after our stroll through the town, we too ended up there.
Although I wasn’t (and still am not) a fan of the killing of the bulls, having seen bull fights on TV, usually on the Spanish version of ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’, I felt like I was mentally prepared for what I was about to see. It’s probably not a surprise that experiencing it first hand was almost completely different than simply watching it on TV: first of all, it was the last bull fight of the season, so it was so crowded that we weren’t able to get to our seats until ‘halftime’. The crowd was so energizing that even if I didn’t necessarily know the rules, I felt like I did- I didn’t know whether to root for man or bull, especially after the second bullfighter was literally pinned against the wall by the bull and Alanna and I gripped hands in fear…as the bullfighter was taken out of the arena by the paramedics, I was informed that this was not a frequent occurrence.
After an exciting evening, without a place to sleep that evening, we decided to take two shipmates up on the offer of washing up at their hostel and staying out all night until we went to the airport where we took a nap at a cafeteria.
After a smooth flight to Barcelona, Alanna and I had lunch as we discussed where we might find a hostel for the two nights that we were there: after wandering for close to two hours, we were lead to what looked like an apartment but what was in fact a small hostel in the middle of an apartment building in the city center- for $25 euros a night, jackpot! The best part is that the owner of the hostel was extremely helpful that night, pretty much setting us up for a great stay in Barcelona.
While Alanna recovered and took a nap, I decided to go for a walk, which landed me in many of the city’s most quaint and historic neighborhoods- to the waterfront and back. I took advantage of the fact that there was an international festival to simultaneously get a henna tattoo and my eyebrows threaded for a whopping 6euros!
After returning to the hostel, Alanna and I got ready for an evening among the people- Barcelona’s Merce Festival, which to our luck took place during the weekend that we were there: after a wonderful ‘Tapa’ filled dinner, we walked towards Plaza Espana where the city was holding its yearly firework display- one word: incomparable. Watching the New York City fireworks every year for the Fourth of July, I was ready to be unimpressed; however, the fireworks in Barcelona not only surpassed the ones back home time wise, they were literally phenomenal, coordinated with the music that was playing and being incrementally spectacular.
Needless to say, the fireworks set the stage for a wonderful evening- we continued to a place our ‘hostel dad’ suggested, Jamboree, a jazz club that was a precursor for a nightclub on the second floor of the building. Failing to take a nap was definitely not the best idea- evident as I fell asleep in my seat and later repeatedly on the dance floor.
I got my revenge for lack of sleep on the following day when I didn’t wake up until about 1pm- after a late brunch at an amazing vegetarian restaurant, Joyce joined Alanna and I for a bicycle tour of the city, and it was probably the best three hours I spent in Barcelona! Something about riding a bike is so liberating, making me literally feel part of the beauty of Barcelona’s beaches, narrow alleys, and amazing architecture.
For our last night in Barcelona, Alanna, Joyce, and I decided to have one last hoorah at Opium, apparently the best club in Barcelona- the free entry to the nightclub right on the beach was definitely something to look forward to!
After a few hours on the dance floor, Alanna and I literally rushed to and from our hostel to catch A 7am train to Madrid where I was to visit my friend, Nada.
After an 8hour bus ride filled with intermittent sleep between rest stops, we finally got to Madrid, my heart pounding as I heard Nada’s voice resound from her building’s intercom- I just couldn’t believe that my after two years, our plan to reunite in Madrid was actually becoming a reality.
Once at her really cute apartment, we caught up on all things life, Alanna with me, somehow representing a mixture of my past and present. Together we walked to Nada’s university, a small Catholic school where she would have one class before she was back to us and ready for a night out- we went to one of the best clubs of the city, where Nada told us that the Real Madrid players go, and honestly I am not surprised because it really did have such a great ambience…on the way there, we met a group of friends who were also doing study abroad programs in Spain and who joined us that evening –
As expected after a late night, we ds not wake up the next day until 1pm, and had it not been for Nada having to leave the apartment on a field trip, we probably would have continued sleeping. – luckily we didn’t, giving us enough time to say our see you soons ( I refuse to say goodbye!).
Shortly afterwards, Alanna and I found ourselves moving yet again, from Nada’s apartment to the train station, this time heading back to Cadiz where we made it back just in time for about 20 minutes of a Flamenco show ❤ followed by another port reunion of the shipboard community, Cadiz version.
The following day, I was up pretty early to enjoy some time in port before we left the wonderful country: Andrea and I decided to explore the city through food that day, literally eating at about 6 different places that day, including egg omelets, sand-filled clams (that she was not particularly fond of), ice cream, and almonds…oh the almonds…I wish I could have them every day!
After wandering aimlessly, we decided to have a tour of the city through a panoramic tower that shows you Cadiz through a virtual sight that is projected onto a screen.- so amazing! We literally saw people walking, cars moving, the waves crashing against the nearby shore, and even a view of our home at the dock! – and we didn’t even have to move! – when we did have to move was shortly after our tour when we literally ran back to the ship, with fifteen minutes standing between us and dock time, which luckily was not the way that we said goodbye to Spain.
After tears were literally by many shed once we were informed about our inability to go to Morocco because of the antagonism arising after the anti-Islamic video spread, I believe that most of the shipboard community was completely disheartened. Personally, it was the place that I was most excited for on the entire itinerary.
As an alternative, SAS executives decided on taking us to the Canary Islands. At first, I was not really excited for the port and was rather confused by their announcement that they did not wish the port to turn into a spring break type vacation when clearly that was all there seemed to be going on there- to my surprise, I was wrong, the island was much more than I expected.
First of all, geographically, the island was much different than any other that I had seen before. It was not all flat land and beaches: on the first day we hiked up a volcano, which could have potentially been deadly if it wasn’t for my ‘spider ‘porc’ (pig) powers. Aside from the absolutely breathtaking views, I felt like a child again, climbing rocks, poking my head into dried up lava holes, collecting rocks, and screaming at the top of my lungs just to hear my echo. This was all possible thanks to the cooperation of our great cab driver, Gregorio, who graced us with amazing international music and picture stops along the way up to our hike.
He was also the guy who did not sleep that evening, buying us drinks and driving us to the Southern part of the island where we danced and walked along the beach.
Our beach day continued just hours later on the following day when we decided to head back to a nearby beach, which was naturally created by lava stones, hence the black sand. – the landscape was absolutely beautiful! That combined with my venture along the boardwalk and our playfulness in the water was enough for us to have an amazing time and a great end to Santa Cruz, Tenerife ❤
After six days on the ship, with the last two stressful days filled with exams and quizzes from each of the five classes that I am taking onboard, I was finally blessed with arrival on land. It wasn’t simply a country I had not been to, but a new continent as well: and as the ship rocked to and fro porting into Tema, Ghana, I was in the shower singing “it’s time for Africa” from Shakira’s song, Waka Waka- cheesy, I know, but it got me that much more excited to leave the ship and to meet my host family outside of the port.
It was my first time CouchSurfing, and to be honest, I was a bit nervous- not because I didn’t trust the family that I would be staying with (I lucked out and ended up being hosted by the family of the owner of a tour group company that works closely with Semester at Sea), but because I did not know what to expect, and of course, whenever there is uncertainty, human nature makes one feel a level of anxiety and nervousness.
I quickly overcame my fears immediately after meeting my host family, who literally embraced me, immediately upon meeting me. – They called me daughter, sister, and every other appropriate familial terminology. Aside from all my family titles, on our ride home, I was given a traditional African name, Abena, which means Tuesday, because of the day of the week that I was born.
Once at the home of my host’s grandmother, I assisted them in the organization of a few tours for my shipmates. – While helping my ‘brother’ Oliver in separating wristbands, I asked him why he was so willing to help if the tour company was started by his brother Fred and not him. He did not hesitate in answering: “bayto”, it means “I am part of it, so if I am part of it something should I wait to be called for help?” –This really hit home for me, reminding me of the many times that my own mother often questioned why I wouldn’t help her at the restaurant if ‘that was the reason why I was able to eat and drink’. – Definitely something to remember and reflect upon when I get back home.
Spending the rest of the night at the home, I was able to help prepare a traditional Ghanaian meal, consisting of Banku (a corn and cassava dish) with beans and/or fish, aka help stir the mixture and help clean up afterwards. After dinner, I experienced what I consider an African version of a siesta, during which even I laid down and went for a walk with Oliver; I then witnessed the grandma, who was blind, try to escape through the door, reminding me of my own grandmother who I miss so much ❤
Before heading back home, Oliver and I played a traditional African game called Mankala, which at first made me think that I was in the middle of the forest playing with rocks because of its rudimentary form, but it is really a lot more strategic than it looks. – which is probably why I lost four out of the six times that I played.
Shortly after our stay at grandma’s house, we decided to head to the home where I would be staying for the rest of my time in Ghana. – Once there, I met three other members of my family, including my father and my two cousins, Junior and Messi whom I watched soccer with until ‘it was time’ for us to go to bed.
On the following morning, I got up early to go to a nearby school that Fred had arranged for me to visit. City of God, a private school about five minutes away from the home was where over two hundred children were educated daily, ranging from infants to children in ‘junior and senior high’.
Aside from the very crowded classrooms, another thing that really surprised me was the disparity between organization and chaos. Almost every child had a uniform on, but not many of them were properly fed- probably explaining why I witnessed two children just pass out in the middle of the classroom, one being carried directly to the nearby hospital, and one who the professors decided to use more traditional methods on: something that I considered to be voodoo but which someone later clarified was more likely them speaking to the child in tongues, in order to energize her body/soul to rise from that depressed physical state.
That was not the only shocking thing that I experience during that relatively short school day: after I came up to a child who was crying over his desk and who mumbled what was wrong to me without my full comprehension of the fact, another child clarified that he had just been ‘cained’ (hit) for not having the money to cover his book. – When I asked my host sister why this happened, she explained that it was the way the school administrators believed they would be able to recuperate the money that was owed to the school, as the children would pressure their parents to pay.
While distribute the many gifts that my family and friends had given me, I quickly realized that it was a bad idea… it was impossible to know the number beforehand, but there just wasn’t enough for all the children. 1. I didn’t want them to fight, 2. I didn’t want them to get the impression that Americans only came for a day with ‘stuff’ to give and no attempt to actually establish a connection to the children 3. I did not want to be remembered for my things; rather, instead of being a representation of the Capitalist society where we live, I wanted to be a humanitarian (if even for a day). I knew that I could not be a Mother Teresa in such a short while, so I decided to give the ‘stuff’ to the principal of the school instead, and simply decided to go with the flow of the school.
This turned out to be a very good idea, especially after I set the bag with the various goods down, including toothbrushes donated by previous Semester at Sea alum, which one child found and the rest naturally attacked. An older child responded to this saying, “don’t let her give you toothbrushes; that means you don’t brush your teeth!” To which my heart sank (especially because it was addressed at our Pre-Port meeting), and what I responded with, “of course not! –You all have toothbrushes and know how to brush your teeth, but we all need to change our toothbrushes, and now we all have extra- even I have one!”
Aside from the very mentally and emotionally straining things that I experienced that day (I’m still having trouble processing everything that I heard/saw that day), there were certainly some very positive encounters that I had with the children. First of all, one thing that really struck me as I went introducing myself to each classroom was how positively the children thought of the United States, especially in respect to England. Among the questions asked in the fourth grade classroom (thanks to Professor Joe Quayso) that afternoon were: Is Africa a curse? Why were the British so mean to us? How is racism in the United States? Do you live near the coast? How do you see the U.S. in comparison to Ghana? – And while attempting to respond to and interact with these children, I realized that I definitely relate more with teaching the older kids, something I may want to pursue in the future.
Needless to say, just a few hours were enough to leave me feeling very mind blown- almost a week later, I continue to think of my time there, and every time I am left with a thought different than the previous one.
Anyway, after leaving the school, my cousin Messi cooked me a traditional homemade meal, consisting of platanos and beans, something very similar to what my mother would make, except for a very distinctive Ghanaian spice added to the dish. After this delicious meal, Messi joined me in my quest to get a piece of my hair wrapped… three hairdressers and one beauty shop later, success! – For 10 Ghanaian cedis, about 5 dollars, I had two women add this colorful strip to my hair.
Afterwards, I succeeded in mailing my ballot for the upcoming US presidential election – my first time voting!
Hopefully it made it there safely!
The night ended well into the next day when I talked to my brother about what seemed like everything and anything, divisions and unifications- life and love, economy, family, school… anything and everything! By the end of the night, we both concluded that our views on our respective cultures was certainly skewed, and we were definitely a lot more similar than we thought. (Except for our views on smoking and drinking: Not that I do now, but Oliver literally said that if I smoked he would not even be able talk to me)
After talking to Olivia about my desire to go see one of the slave castles in the country, where over millions of Africans were never seen again, as they were traded off during the Triangle Trade to various parts of the Carribean, North and South America, she offered to let me join her on a tour group the following day; it turned out to be scheduled for a number of my fellow shipmates which made it that much more fun! Before heading to the slave castles, we spent our afternoon at Kakum National Park, where we saw other Sasers who were also making their way to one of the largest bridges made of rope in the world.
Red Cross Volunteer Worker Who Offered Me a (Delicious) Coconut
After lunch, we made our way to the castle, where the sadness of its history was juxtaposed by the beauty of its landscape: situated on the edge of the shore, the castle was ‘the point of no return’ for the many who never saw their families again, either dying from disease or starvation during their many months of captivities in the slave dungeons, or leaving their homelands for good as they sailed away as objects of labor in faraway lands- it truly left me thinking. Perhaps one of my ancestors came from this very point of ‘no return’, and here I am today, experiencing it hundreds of years later for myself.
The night ended shortly after our arrival home, mostly because of our mutual sentiments of fatigue, but before then, I had one last family member to meet: Oliver’s twin sister, Ophelia, who was a ball of energy capable of keeping me up for two more hours upon meeting her talking about each other’s lives.
My last day started early, as I literally woke up to a rooster’s crow…
I really felt part of a family when I helped my sister Ophelia iron her clothes for work that morning, adding to the feeling of home.
Shortly afterwards, I made my way to the school for one last time, leaving Lydia, the principal with my contact information, should she need my assistance in the future. I let her know that although I didn’t have a job and I hadn’t even graduated yet, there is always something I can do to help, so I hope that someday I can.
I also said goodbye to the fourth graders who left the biggest impact on me that day and who I distracted if even for a minute while they took an exam to bid farewell; this was possible thanks to the hospitality of Professor Joe Quayson, who I just received an email from saying, “First of all i thank God for your save journey to South Africa.My Dear,somethings can be left undone,some words can be left unsaid,some feelings can be left unexpressed,but someone like you can never be left unremembered.You also made me proud specially the first time you hugged me and the gift of your post cards.You really made me sad when you left me alone.i promise to keep them save(post cards) just to keep you in mind.school is looking great and the kids also wish you well.Greetings to Bella your loved dog.I LOVE YOU EARLENE and i mean my words.wish to meet you again”
On our way to Accra, where we planned to go to a market before heading back to the port, we ‘coincidentally’ met up with our brother Fred, who had the back of the taxi filled with drums that he was selling to the people onboard. After dropping off the drums, we headed back to Mom’s house for our ‘last supper’ aka my last Ghanaian meal of ren ren aka beans and plantains ❤
Soon afterwards, Fred took my shipmate Cari (who helped to organize one of his tour groups for months) and I to a market, which was surprisingly not filled with many tourists. This provided us with more opportunities to bargain and achieve the greatest prices: for me, this meant getting pants that the seller ended up helping me pay for… the price went from 45 to 17 Ghanaian cedis.
Having learned that the Ghanaian merchants were willing to trade traditional crafts for American goods, I grabbed a myriad of things I no longer needed from my cabin earlier that day, deciding to try my hand at bartering for the first time in my life. My brother Fred, however, did not let me, and instead offered to give me American dollars for the merchandise, so that I could purchase a traditional African drum… talk about generosity!
After a few sad goodbyes (see ya laters), I swiped my card through the gangway and went up the stairs, returning me to the reality that is life onboard… always swaying you to and fro’, from port A to B, without balance, always missing the past, but truly looking forward to the future. – Ghana will really really be missed though.
Greeting South Africa with African Drums
For days before porting into Cape Town, we were lectured about the effect of the Apartheid, a near 30-year period of racism and racial segregation in South Africa. We were warned about the difference between a ‘traditional’ African country like Ghana and South Africa. In fact, the only thing that reminded me that I was in Africa were the animals, which I got to experience full-force, as I partook in typical tourist activities like a safari and my own try at diving with sharks. Aside from these wonderfully invigorating experiences, it was pretty difficult to ignore the remnants of such a distressing history sparked by hatred.
There were definitely wonderful people in the country, working very hard to alleviate the consequences of the Apartheid. This was made clear to me after going on a field trip for my World Religions class, and seeing how close all of the various houses of worship were to each other, geographically and also how the different religious leaders collaborated to create a better South Africa. This included our stop at an Anglican church, a mosque, a Krishna Consciousness temple, a Baptist church, and a Hindu temple- needless to say, a life-changing experience. See “World Religions Field Lab Reflection”.
At a Mosque
Children at the mosque, memorizing the Qu’ran and learning Arabic
At a Krishna Consciousness Temple
A monk chanting at the temple
At a Hindu Temple
In keeping with the religious theme of the day, I decided to return to a Hindu temple that night to join them in the start of a nine-day religious festival filled with dancing, blessed apples and kit kat s, and an all-around amazing time.
After returning back to the ship that evening and meeting others for a night out, we ventured to what is now the infamous ‘Long Street’, where is seemed like the entire shipboard community congregated every evening we were in Cape Town. After wandering to and from several establishments, we finally decided to stay at one where live performers who turned out to be ‘karaokeers’ entertained us.
The next day started bright and early as sixty of us boarded a bus to participate in a Habitat for Humanity project in a township. Except for the rain that almost ruined our cement, the experience was absolutely wonderful: during the few hours that we were there, we witnessed and partook in the building of two rooms for a home that had been stopped for four y ears due to lack of funding.
To celebrate, we went to various open-door markets before returning back to the ship for dinner and then leaving again for another night out- we went to a belly dancing/hookah restaurant, which was representative of the diverse South African culture as a whole before going to numerous clubs that were surprisingly segregated- This night ended the following morning at 6am.
It probably would’ve been a better idea for my night not to have ended as late as it did: I had to be on a bus at 6:45 that morning, to make my way to the safari. Obviously, this meant that I didn’t get any sleep that night, but the safari was totally worth it.
For dinner, my friends decided to try some of the animals that we had seen in the wild that afternoon. I don’t know what possessed me to try crocodile, but even though I hadn’t had a single piece of meat in many months, I did, and it wasn’t that bad.
After dinner, we returned to the belly-dancing restaurant, and although some of my friends decided to stay out until a little later, my sleepless 48-hours ended here.
Part of the reason why I decided to head back early is the fact that I was expecting to shark dive early the following morning; however, because of inclement weather, that was cancelled- on our way back from our meeting point, a cab driver, who I thought was taking advantage of our situation actually ended up giving us a bargain of $20 for an entire day of instructive guides of the Cape of Good Hope, a market, and a free viewing of penguins and baboons.
I was later informed that our cabdriver, David, actually hadn’t slept in three days because he knew that the ship was in town, and he had to take advantage of the days that he was able to work, as he was a single parent to a young boy that he had to put through engineering school… and I complain about not sleeping because I feel like hanging out all night?
Luckily for me, I decided to spend the night watching a movie instead of going out again, partly because I was exhausted (I fell asleep during the movie), but also because the following day was dedicated to shark diving, and I definitely needed all of the energy I could afford in order to fully experience the enormous beasts that at times seemed extremely menacing beating against the cage where I was contained.
And on that scary note, I said farewell to South Africa.
After eight 25 hour-days at sea (we gained hours every day since we departed South Africa), it was a blessing to finally get to Buenos Aires- the best part was that there, one of my bestest friends, Gabe, awaited me, who I would spend most of my time with there.
After finally finding the port in the huge city, Gabe and I hugged, as if it had been years and not months since we’d last seen each other: for us both, being away from home for so long, I guess it was like having a piece of home for that moment.
Together we took the metro home and settled in his 1920s style apartment before heading out for a walk where he played tour guide and I my usual super tourist when my camera is out: he took me to a museum, across several of the city’s bridges, to a church, and my favorite of all… the Ricoletta Cemetery.
It was seriously like a city in there, housing several of Argentina’s most prominent individuals, definitely exemplified by the elaborate mausoleums and tombs erected throughout the cemetery… I wouldn’t mind being buried there!
After continuing our walking tour to and through many of the city’s parks and gardens, we went home to get ready for the party he was throwing for both his friends in Argentina and my friends on the ship… how nice, right!? – And the party was just as nice.
Over 40 RSVPs, and pounds of meat later, the Asado, was absolutely amazing! – on the roof of the building where everyone gathered, there were dozens of new acquaintances formed and even a few ‘what a small world’ experiences, as people exchanged stories and established new connections.
Seton Hall meets in Buenos Aires!
Ready for bed after the Asado, I was made aware that the night had just started… Argentina being a Hispanic country, I should have known. – Needless to say, it took about an hour for the 30+ people who filed out of the apartment to make plans once out of the building, eventually turning into most people going to a club, and Gabe and I joining two of his friends for a game of pool at a bar, which ended at 6am the following morning.
On our way back home from town that morning, the most shocking thing happened to me: as I observed a man hurriedly pick up the fifteen coins that he had dropped in the subway right before the stop, Gabe rushed me to get out of the subway. Once out of the train, Gabe said, “don’t you see that those two guys were trying to steal from us”, to which I naively responded, “well at least they didn’t steal anything from me”, looking through my purse and realizing that my purse had disappeared. – Gabe immediately went to the security guard at the station while I asked a couple if they had seen a white phone on the ground anywhere… I began to give them my number to help me locate my phone out of nervousness, without realizing that it would not work internationally. We then approached the man who had dropped his coins who greeted us by saying, “they stole from you too? They stole my wallet, and now my mom is coming to get me… I’m here on vacation from Chile, and now I don’t even have money to have fun…it was those two black guys in the subway”… leaving the subway feeling sorry for this poor man, and grateful that I at least had my wallet and my passport, we walked away. However, three blocks later, Gabe and I realized that there were no ‘black guys’ in the subway with us… needless to say, that pick pocketer was also a good actor.
Gabe, who was very supportive, helping me make the necessary calls and cancellations, reminded me that I was only in Argentina for a few more hours, so I decided to forget about the phone and join him at his friend’s ‘sunset’ rooftop party, where we literally talked until the sunset.
After watching the sunset, I joined a few of my friends at a traditional Argentine milonga, where the locals go to dance tango, and where after a few hours of practicing the basic figure eight with locals, we all learned as well.
A very well rest later, I awoke for a walk around town and an empanada breakfast with Gabe before heading to the San Telmo’s market where I bought some traditional Argentine goodies and even got to experience a bit of the Polish community in Argentina.
It was in that same market place, while watching a few guards salute the Argentine flag, where I witnessed an ex-school teacher explain to a mother and her family what was going on. Instead of the gratitude that Gabe and I expressed to the 70+ year old lady, the mother cursed the old lady out, claiming that she was disrespecting a lawyer who did not need to be preached at. Instead of helping to calm his wife down, the husband took her side and proceeded to yell at the lady, claiming that she was the reason that Argentina was the way it was… I don’t know what her act of kindness has to do with the political disarray in the nation, but it definitely brought tears to my eyes… if anyone were to do that to my grandmother, I think I would bite them.
Once back at the apartment, we winded down with a few hours of TV and pizza before Gabe dropped me back off at the ship, where my friends and I met before heading to a milonga that Gabe suggested- La Catedral turned out to be the coziest place, filled with eclectic art and people just as diverse who danced to a variation of tango and folklore music until 3am even though it was a Sunday night.
On my last day in Argentina, I had classroom obligations to attend what Semester at Sea calls a ‘field lab’ to a polo clothing company and to a wine company where aside from learning a lot from an affluent entrepreneur, we had a free wine tasting- great way to spend our last few hours in Argentina!
Just across the river from Argentina, Uruguay awaited. As I made my way out of the ship and through the old part of Montevideo, I ran into a few of my shipmates who accompanied me to a few blocks filled with markets until I lost them amidst my timeless bargaining attempts.
I was eventually joined by Kathy, another shipmate who strayed from her group and who decided to join me for the rest of the day, as I bought numerous Christmas gifts for most of the family; yes, I said it- Christmas presents!
After walking across the town, we made it to a local park where we rested for a bit, people watching on a bench that overlooked a beach. We headed back after a few hours when we decided it would be a great idea to check out the theatre, which was honestly the nicest, cleanliest, and most well-kept theatre I had ever seen. This encouraged us to buy tickets to watch a Japanese contemporary dancer. – This man’s moves, which resembled a mixture of erotic exorcist movements was hands down, the weirdest thing I have ever seen! – A first for everything right?
After the show, we decided to get ice cream, and while we sat down to eat it, two fellow shipmates came up to us flabbergasted, one of them asking us if we felt safe here. – We all nodded our heads yes, not knowing what awaited us later that evening. As we walked home, two guys (no more than 16 years old) started to walk behind us and began to swerve suspiciously toward us, to which I warned my three girlfriends of. Less than a minute later, both guys began to sprint toward us, pulling my bag and my friend Natalie’s bag. After I fell to my knees attempting to get him away and elbowing him in the face, he signaled to his friend and they scurried off. – Scariest 30 seconds of my life! – (If you’re reading this, please don’t tell my mom!!! LOL) The following day definitely made up for the night before. My steward, who notified me that Obama had been reelected, woke me up. – it’s great to have access to the news in the middle of the ocean! –Shortly afterwards, I met with two girls who wanted to go horseback riding that day. After being led to and from the tourism office and then to a travel agency, we were finally put on a bus to Rocha, a small town three hours away from Montevideo. There we were greeted by Anaïs, a French expatriate who now works in the Caballos de Luz ranch taming and caring for horses. Before we even got to the ranch, she bought us ice cream and took us on a scenic route to the farm, which was set among beautiful hills and nestled between a river.
Once there, the owner of the ranch, Lucie, hugged us and welcomed us in, joining us for ice cream and exchanging stories about how we both ended up on the ranch- what was for us a day trip turned out to be her life as she left Austria for Costa Rica and eventually Uruguay to pursue her passion for horses. She explained more about her life after we brushed our horses, mine which was called Titi was definitely the least tame, probably because although I am definitely still an amateur, I was the only one out of the three of the girls who had ridden before. Lisa and Anaïs brought us through the river and up a hill, which overlooked the rest of the community where they lived. Lucie explained that where they were located was communal land, where they shared their resources, including their crops and their produce, pointing out the various locations where their friends were located- she added saying that she had agreed to purchase part of the land with her friends five years ago without having it before.
After a trek back to the cottage, Brooke suggested that we all go skinny-dipping in the river, which I agreed to, keeping my undergarments on and shivering as I took about five minutes to enter the river fully. – The bugs hovering over our heads deterred us from staying there for more than twenty minutes, but it was definitely refreshing after a very hot day. Once home, Lucie let us join her for vegetarian dinner, which happened to be a very important dinner, as it was celebrating her and her husband Santiago’s fifth wedding anniversary. – the best part is that she never made us feel like we were imposing. In fact, she made us feel right at home, inviting us to lay down in her hammocks, eat some of her mandarins, share some of her wine, and enjoy the beautiful stars above us as we left her home… talk about a perfect day! – I could totally see myself wanting to live in someplace like this
Natalie and I decided to end the last day in Uruguay together, travelling to a remote town, three hours away, which was originally founded by the Portuguese, still resembled in the architecture that remains from this 18th Century beachside village where we had lunch and climbed to the top of a lighthouse before heading back to the ship and saying goodbye to Montevideo.
Considering the number of people who thought I was Brazilian, starting with a lady at the Brazilian embassy where I went to get my visa, I was pretty excited to meet ‘my people’. Once there, I understood the reason for the confusion. Not only did I ‘blend’ in with the Brazilian people, the Brazilian people blended in with everyone else. Particularly due to the nation’s long history of slave trade (most of the slaves from West Africa arrived in Brazil) and its extended history of integration, it can be said that Brazil is a country devoid of race. That is not to say that it is completely devoid of segregation; however, instead of the basis of this separation being race, it is centered more on poverty and economic inequality.
This inequality was not evident at the ‘Hippie Market’ that we went to, nor was it evident on the beach that we went to on the first day, one of Rio’s most lavish beaches.
Cari getting a free tattoo for being his ‘new girlfriend’
It wasn’t evident during the soccer game that we attended that afternoon either. Sure there were good seats and bad seats, but on a whole, the democracy and excitement of the game was definitely unifying for all who attended: the crowd welcomed us in, teaching us how to play the drums, which they played avidly cheering for the Vosco team where we unknowingly sat.
Joyce learning how to ‘booty pop’
At the game, we met a few locals who were more than willing to explain what was going on during the game, who was playing, and what the Portuguese chants meant. One of them, Yghor, was nice enough to offer to walk us to our taxi that evening.
Along the way, Yghor described where the infamous ‘favellas’ of Brazil were, the shantytowns or slums, where the segregation was made clear.
These neighborhoods house hundreds of thousands of people, who my professor said, “don’t leave the favella because of a sense of identity, a strong feeling of community, and the value of their land/property, which often renders the people better views than those on the surface; this, in addition to a lot of trust/relationship between the people who work on a ‘compadre’ basis, i.e. paying debt to one another at end of the month and the economic benefit of not paying for electricity, rent, or taxes.”
The National Theater Where the Government Subsidizes Costs for The Poor
In addition, there is increased peace within the infamously violent neighborhoods through the implementation of multiple pacification programs, and within the last 10 years, 22 million people moved from the poor to the middle class in Brazil i.e.the Bolsa Familia program pays Brazilians who send their children to school.
The people living in the favellas may get some economic benefits, but it certainly does not justify the rest of their living conditions, especially in a country that is becoming increasingly wealthy, in fact, one of the wealthiest developing countries in the world.
This wealth was evident as we witnessed the beauty of the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue that lied on the Corcovado Mountain.
The beautiful Selaron Steps, made with tiles from all over the world, the beautiful beaches, and literally the most beautiful mall that I have ever been to were certainly representative of this wealth as well:
Christmas Decorations Already!?
Stephanie and I decided to end the day with a trip to one of the highest mountaintops in Rio, promising one of the best views of the acclaimed Natural Wonder of the World.
View from Sugarloaf Mountain
On my last day in Rio, I had a field lab for my international business class to visit two of the largest Brazilian corporations, one of them, Petrobras being the largest (oil) company in the nation and Vale being the fourth largest in the nation and the second largest mining company in the world, both of them providing me with very insightful knowledge on multinational corporations and how they execute their business… before the visit I didn’t even know how mining or oil companies operated!
An exciting soccer game, beautiful sights, and a few Açai Berry sherbets later, it was time to say farewell to Rio, in anticipation of another Brazilian city that awaits me in just eight days.
Açai Berry Sherbet=Best Frozen Treat Ever
For me, the voyage to Manaus started way before Semester at Sea. It began when the idea of the Amazon was implemented in a small crevice of my brain in fourth grade: I had kept some of the books that the local library was getting rid of, one of which spoke about the wonders of the world’s largest rainforest. Little did I know at the time that I would actually be able to visit and sleep there as well.
After days of cruising between the Amazon River, we finally arrived in the coastal city of Manaus, once a Portuguese city, economically booming from the rubber producing trees of the area.
Nestled high above the various market places that filled the city, stood the Manaus Opera House, in which we stopped to get tickets for an amazing performance that night.
Following the advice from a local that morning, my fellow Dominican shipmate, Dari, and a few other friends set out to go to a Dominican restaurant in Brazil. It was really surprising but simultaneously exciting to get a piece of our own culture in this very unexpected place.
We learned that much like my own family, the family had all immigrated to Brazil together, starting a family business for all of them to progress together.
A few shopping hours later, we got ourselves ready for a wonderful night out, starting with the Opera House. Among the many people who we met on our way out were the Ambassador of the United States to Brazil (who I had the opportunity to meet and converse with on the ship) and he who would be our guide for the rest of that evening, a local, Jean.
After asking him to take a picture of us (leading us to a better section of the Opera House), I asked him to join us for the rest of that night, which included going for ice cream, going to a club where only locals gathered, and then going to a club where for the first time, I experienced the crew from the ship ‘getting down’, including, John, my cabin steward. I had heard rumors of this happening, but never thought that I would have the luck to experience it for myself. Despite my initial assumption, it wasn’t awkward at all, and I actually ended up dancing with quite a few of them.
The following morning, after meeting Jean again for a stroll through the town, which led us to a local art and film gallery, during which I tried virtually all of the Amazonian fruit possible, I left to head back to the ship for my Jungle Survival Skills adventure in the Amazon.
It all started with a 1-hour boat ride to the forest where the people from the Messana tribe live.
And then… learning how to climb a tree to search for berries with a palm leaf tied around your heals,
Chopping a vine in search for water,
Nipping at a tree trunk in search for milk,
Starting a fire with two batteries, two sticks, two rocks, and/or a machete and a rock
And last but not least, hunting animals using a blow gun and an elevated surface
We ended the day eating fresh fruit
And lying in hammocks playing catchphrase and telling stories, surprisingly with no mosquito bites and nothing too scary happening, other than a jaguar roaring at us in the middle of the night…
I can honestly say that after an overnight trip, I learned a lot about surviving in the Amazon: I may not be able to replicate any of the things observed, but at least I know they’re a possibility! – if you have I can honestly say that after an overnight trip, I learned a lot about surviving in the Amazon: I may not be able to replicate any of the things observed, but at least I know they’re a possibility! – if you have a machete and a blowgun, that is.
After a very filling breakfast of an Açai concoction and some fresh fruit, we took a boat ride back to the ship, but long before our arrival there, my friend Melissa and I were already planning on spending our last few hours in Manaus, exploring the “Splitting of the Two Waters”, the only place in the world where two bodies of water meet but never mix, trekking through the rainforest again to see some lilies, petting a sloth and a baby crocodile, and having our last traditional Brazilian meal before returning to the ship.
14 countries later, it was time for our very last port: bittersweet because it was the first and last port that all of my friends would spend together.
We decided to book a tour of the wonders of Dominica, which one of my friends ended up calling a ‘Paradise Tour’…
Our first stop was to ‘one of the most unique snorkeling areas in the Eastern Caribbean’… aside from me sitting on a sea urchin and having hundreds of needles go into my skin, It was truly an amazing experience!
We then went to a place where part of Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 was filmed! –Once there, it came to no surprise why Titou Gorge was chosen, after jumping off a cliff into the water,
we swam to a waterfall in the middle of the caves and I even got a try at swinging from a vine!
We then made our way to the acclaimed Trafalgar Falls, where after a ten minute walk, we got to a platform where we could see the beauty of the waterfall… Shortly after, we made our way down into a natural hot bath, created from the lava under the rocks, heating the water… talk about natural wonder!
We ended the day driving through a Botanical Garden and taking pictures of the ship from a beautiful cliff where we reminded ourselves of this being our final port… as usual, I said that I would not cry because ‘I didn’t have a heart.’
It was too much a perfect day, however… On my way back to the ship, I realized that my friend Alanna was crying hysterically and on the phone with her mother. After whispering to me ‘she died’, l immediately thought that Alanna had suffered a loss back home; little did I know that it was someone in our very own community.
As we made our way back to the ship, we were informed that shortly after we left our snorkeling site, the group of shipmates that we saw partying on the boat that they rented, suffered a great tragedy. Cassie Shulman, who was on the boat that morning, went in for ‘one last jump’ off the boat before the captain took off… Not knowing that there were people still in the water, he turned on the propeller and reversed in the water: Casey, who was just behind the propeller, was severely injured by the propeller and died on her way to the hospital.
As they were informing us of the tragedy, I couldn’t help but burst into tears, as I heard her friends agonizing and crying their hearts out in the auditorium. I never hung out with Casey, nor do I remember talking to her, but she was a part of the community, and I definitely felt the loss- after all, it could’ve been one of my friends: it could’ve been me.
What struck me most was her friend’s testimony on the night of Casey’s memorial: he claimed that he knew about Casey before they even boarded because the night before, their parent’s had met at the family reception on the ship: his grandfather pulled him aside that night and said “I met this girl Casey’s parents… I like her parents… good parents make good children, and if Casey has her mother’s genes, she’s a catch.” … Soon enough, the two of them met, fell in love, and hung out on the ship and in port all the time. On the day of her accident, they were together: in fact, they encouraged each other to jump in ‘one last time’… living her life to the fullest to the very last bit! – This is definitely a tragic love story, however, one that sits with me every day, reminding me to live in the present moment, happy and adventurous. Of course in doing so, there is a risk, but a beautiful risk, taken in return for happiness and a fulfilling life. –I have faith that Casey died a happy, loves, and fulfilled 22-year old.
That night, I decided to stay on the ship… I didn’t feel like I could go out and party after such a tragic event. _________________________________________________ The following day, I had such a humbling experience: after my first attempt at retrieving money from my credit card at an ATM failed, I went into a store hoping to get cash back. The sales associate, Annette, said that the store could not do that for me, but went to ask her manager anyway, or so I thought: instead, she returned with $100 Eastern Caribbean (equivalent to about 40USD), and handed them to me as I ‘tried on’ the scarf I was holding in the fitting room. – My reaction was to burst into tears, probably the second time that I’ve ever cried of happiness.-(Just the day before, I had said that I never cried, and here I am, crying multiple times in less than 24 hours) – Annette gracefully responded, that it was really nothing, and that someday I would do the same for someone else.
Store Where Annette Works
After leaving the shop, I walked across the street and got my hair threaded and walked towards the city center, hoping to find ice cream… Since it was Sunday, everything seemed to be closed, but I decided to ask a local on a bike that might be able to direct me. Instead, she offered to take me to the place herself.
The cutest little girl I’ve ever seen!
Clarita, who I ended up spending the rest of the day with, was a 17-year old native of Dominica, whose favorite pastime was bike riding. – Together, we went to the National Museum of Dominica and through various parks of the City, where I had my last fresh Coconut in God knows how many months! In return, I paid for her ice cream and coconut (actually, Annette paid!)–It was truly a perfect way to end the day, and essentially my Semester at Sea “voyage of a lifetime”.
Since as had decided to stay in Florida for a few more days, disembarkation was definitely not as sad as I had imagined it to be: none of my friends and family awaited me at the port for me to cry in happiness about, and most of the closest friends I had made on the ship were staying with me for at least one more night.
The Florida heat certainly disguised the fact that I wasn’t in another country, especially because being back home in December does not mean you hanging out by the pool with your friends.
The first thing I did on American soil: ask my taxi driver to take me to a Bank of America so that I could finally have some of my own money, also so that i could pay him and buy some trail mix/cereal, which were my first purchases back in the States.
After meeting at our hotel room and being hypnotized by the strongest WIFI connection we had had in months and spending hours talking by bayside restaurant over lunch, Andrea, Joyce, Stephanie, and I met up with some other friends for a Sushi dinner and a last hoorah at another hotel.
The night ended relatively ‘early’ the next day, considering that I had taken numerous naps throughout the night.
The following day, we readied ourselves for the last day we would spend together- perhaps in months, years, or ever. -This thought, sitting far behind our every action that day: it led us one last meal together, at Chipotle, soon after which I said goodbye to Cari and Alanna, who I said bye to with tears down my eyes, as I remembered all that we had gone through together over the past four months-from the “Cliffs of MOHAIRR” to sleepless days in Spain and South Africa.
This thought also led us to have one last amazing night that ended just as it started- at a concert: from Electric Picnic in Ireland to many other moments of bliss in between, Andrea, Joyce, and Stephanie have really been there for me, each contributing to my amazing Semester at Sea experience… They have literally financially supported me when I repeatedly lost my credit/debit cards and have inspired me to be more than I had ever dreamed of- life adventurrers!
After we finally got in to Jingle Ball (our tickets were misplaced for an hour), we joined our friend Megan and her sister for a night of AfroJack,Ke$ha, and even Justin Bieber, but most importantly, of each other!
The following day, my Semester at Sea voyage truly ended, as I dropped my friends off in Miami Beach and went back up the Turnpike for an 18hour-turned-22hour-journey back to normality.
Some consider Hawaii to be another country – now, I know why.
Not only is the weather comparably different from New Jersey and even California, but the people and the places are just as unique. It wasn’t uncommon to see individuals walking barefooted alongside someone with shoes. Individuals not only helping you to find your way, but instructing you as well – helping you to choose the right fruit, and graciously offering you to try a new one.
In the short day that we were ported there, I was able to eat some of the best sushi I’ve ever had (I’m imagining that only Japan can top this), see waterfalls, and attend an amazing farmer’s market – where I bought a $2 bag of lychee that I consumed entirely on my own – yum.yum.yum.
This all happened very organically, as my plans to zipline fell through, and I woke up for breakfast without any plans whatsoever. My new buddy, Tzi Fong invited me to join him and his friends for the day, which turned out to be a most wonderful experience. The group ended up being a fair mix of five international students who were ready for adventure.
Together, we hung out – and uncomplicatedly reverted our plans when going to the volcano became too much of a risk for ‘dock time’ (getting punished for being late getting back to the ship). Instead, we talked to locals who coached us into going to the ‘black sand’ beaches that were formed from old volcanic rocks and lava… truly one of the most wonderful beaches that I’ve seen.
Afterwards, we decided to walk back the three miles back to the ship, when a friendly local stopped us an offered us a ride. He even offered to pick up our friends who had trailed ahead. I know, totally uncustomary elsewhere – but we were in Hawaii, so why not, right?
We ended back to the port safely, with nothing but good memories of Hawaii to discuss over dinner on the ship – memories that have to be somewhat suppressed, as another school day and planning for another port (Japan) lies ahead.
Fun stuff I did:
Watched friends order ramen from a vending machine
Took traditional Japanese photos at a photo booth
Went to a ‘cat café’, where people literally just have coffee/tea and play with cats to de-stress
Stayed with super nice couch surfers! (with whom I salsa’d with and exchanged meaningful conversation)
(where my friend and I stayed in Tokyo)
Days 2 – 3
Made our way up to a mountain with a view of Mt. Fuji, where we stayed in a traditional Ryokan hotel in Hakone, bathing in the onsen (yes, as per tradition, completely nude)
Took a cable car up to Mt. Fuji
Hung out with (took a picture with) Geishas in Kyoto
Biked to the Golden Temple
Went to the bamboo forest, the Yoshida Shrine, and pretended to be in Memoirs of a Geisha
Took a train to Kobe, where I met up with a few SASers from the ship, eventually going from a Jazz bar with adorable Japanese families to Karaokeing in a hotdog suit… I know someone has to have a picture of it!
Walked around Kobe, eventually running into an authentic Japanese market
Went to two sake museums, only sampling it because of course, we couldn’t bring any back on the ship
BEST FOOD HAD:
This dessert: (Green Tea Float with Green Tea Ice Cream) / Green Tea Ice Cream Mochi Balls ❤
FAVORITE CITY: Kyoto
FAVORITE THING DONE: Walking around Kyoto
Interesting things learned about Japan:
– There is a culture of no tipping: leave a tip on the table and the Japanese will run after you to give it back; yes, they’re that honest
– Curry is huge in Japan!
– Sushi is actually super difficult to find in Japan; certainly not as common as ramen noodles
– Buddhism is integrated into the old Shinto tradition
– No tattoos allowed in Japanese public baths because it’s a mafia tradition to have tattoos
-Japan has the best food at the ground level floors of all of its department stores ❤
– Kobe beef: The emperor at the time really liked the beef and said (since Buddhism pretty much eliminated the beef market) that only the Kobe area could eat the beef– they massage the cows, give it sake, and play Mozart in order to tenderize the meet; only 10-15 cows per breeder are allowed per breeder
-Japan: 90% size of California – Over half of US population in that region, hence why it’s extremely crowded everywhere and why apartments are relatively smaller than normal
-Have a parliament & royal house like
-They drive on the left side of the road because the samurai stayed to the left so that their sword wouldn’t touch anyone; the Japanese also walk on the left side of the road and stick to the right on escalators. There are even separators for those who want
-For over 250 years – Japan had no war because Japan was isolated; therefore, peacefully, art and culture uniquely flourished
-Still – no shoes are allowed in the house – including at the Ryokan and the Temple we stayed at in Kyoto
-To put on a kimono alone takes about one hour
-Because of the kimono, women couldn’t bend leading to genetically evolved big thighs and knees —; as a Japanese told me, ‘because genes remember the past’
-Reason for big key chains on stuff: in the old days emperors would attach to stuff so that it would be located among their bags
-Shinto Religion: has no founder; based on the worship and respect of nature; belief that anything we see in this world can be a god;
-For this reason, the religion is very accepting of other religions, they already had 80million gods, so others are welcome, including Buddhism, which easily integrated into the culture thereafter. Very important ideals are purity and cleanliness, of the body and of physical space, which is why
– The word for paper and for god are pronounced the same way, which is why there is a fascination with paper – and why I was able to find the best stationery ever in Japan! (I spent $70 on Japanese erasable pens)
– Ice cream in winter is huge in Japan
-Fiji apples really are the best
-Free tea/ samples everywhere!
-Advertisements are loud and in full force in every public space
-Don’t expect to have English save you in Japan; most people do not speak English; ‘Arigato’ and ‘Semimasen’ are your friends
-Japanese people are the nicest people I have ever met
Cool things done:
Because of issues with Chinese immigration, our arrival in Shanghai was delayed by a whole 12 hours, causing many people to lose money on flights and trips, and costing the entire institution about $20,000
Luckily, I didn’t have anything booked, but I did take advantage of Shanghai’s nightlife when we were able to get off of the ship
After countless hours wandering in the rain, we were able to find the infamous ‘Cirque le Soir’ club that, as promised was housed with expats and locals alike bonding over the acrobatics of the evening.
Before making our way into the club, we went to the Spanish restaurant upstairs, which is where I had the BEST FLAN I have ever had (sorry mom).
An early flight to Beijing, flying above the clouds and the snow that awaited for us below
Walked to Tiannemen’s Square in the freezing cold and in the snow, but it made it all the more beautiful
Relaxed at the hostel, which I completely understood why was named the best in all of Asia – it was super traditional, yet modern, and the owner was extremely hospitable, even offering me a free bottle of wine
Out to one of the ‘best clubs in the world’, Vic’s, which was a great time, but the music, as usual was pretty western
Took a rickshaw back to the hostel
Bus up to the Great Wall – more beautiful and magnificent than I expected it to be
Great food at a restaurant at the foot of the Wall
Hot Pot dinner – which is a traditional Chinese-style restaurant where you cook your own items in a boiling pot of hot water
(where a nice family continuously offered us rice wine’ and poured meat into my friend’s pot, as a hospitable gesture)
Flight to Xi’an
Terracotta Soldiers museum (which houses the thousands of sculptured soldiers created by the buried Chinese emperor at the time to have him be protected in the afterlife… truly interesting!)
Back to the hostel, where I met a Chinese traveler from the region near Tibet – we had an interesting discussion on the quality of life in his region, where he believes individuals like his mother benefit more from than if she moved to the United States
Slept with gloves on for the first time in my life because our hostel didn’t have any heat … but hey, for $7 a night, it wasn’t too bad!
Flight to Hong Kong
Again, met a super nice guy on the plane who is an engineer from Xi’an engineer; he works on building museums and opera houses in Shanghai
Met up with my couchsurfer Daniel, who took us around the various night markets and accompanied us to have bubble tea and then out for dinner at this very traditional hole-in-the-wall restaurant
(after much deliberation on vegetarianism, I mixed rice and peanuts and veggies, and had a pleasantly surprising delicious meal)
Met up with other SASers for literally one drink at a local bar
Daniel accompanied my friends and I the following morning, when, in the few hours before embarkation, we took a cable car up to the largest outdoor Buddha statue in the world
It was at the foot of that Buddha where I had the best meal I’ve had on this trip so far VVV
Fun stuff I did:
BEST FOOD HAD:
Vegetarian food at a Buddhist Monastery: rice noodles, custard, green tea and coconut jello ❤
FAVORITE CITY: Hong Kong
FAVORITE THING DONE: Walking around the Great Wall
Interesting things learned about China:
– The sense of personal space is completely different from the Western one: lines are cut, people are pushed and pulled, cars are rammed in and to people and other cars alike; I attribute this to the overwhelmingly large population, which needs to care more about individual families instead of the greater whole… the opposite of communist principles, I guess?
Heavy pollution- to the point where the snow would turn yellow, and when I washed my hands, a yellow residue would peel off from my skin
Fascination with the color red – from the uniforms to the street signs, to the money
It is extremely difficult to haul a cab over in Beijing, especially in the snow, and especially as a foreigner, unless you have a bargaining application on your phone, specifically for cab. I learned from a local that as soon as they slow down for you, you are to just hop in the cab and tell them where to go
– Meals are were given on each of my 4 flights (in three days), no matter how short each one was
– Googling certain topics are futile; they include: Freedom, justice, war, smog
Nike factory visit for class – where there are over 8000 workers in a semi-crowded area
Met Tin, my Couchsurfer with who I would spend the next two days with – had some street food and tried Vietnamese coffee
Not in compliance with SAS rules, but I rode Tin’s motorcycle around the city before heading to the Cu Chi Tunnels, where the Vietnamese soldiers hid and lived for months at a time during the Vietnamese war
Shot an M16 at the Tunnels …
Met two extremely nice tourists who offered to tour me around the city after Cu Chi Tunnels and even paid for my dinner. He was accompanied by a local Vietnamese student, whom he sponsors even while he’s in Canada for half of the year
Fun/cool Stuff I did:
Day 1 – Phnom Penh
Visited Palm Tree Orphanage- my experience there was truly one with mixed emotions: we were warned against the effects of orphan tourism, yet I couldn’t help but to feel like I was being just that, a tourist observing and not truly making an impact on the lives of the children there. I would’ve preferred (a million times over) to stay there for much longer, or to not go at all. The two things that were encouraging was the knowledge that Semester at Sea has had an ongoing 10-year relationship with the orphanage and that most of their volunteers are previous SAS alums. I also met this beautiful soul, who I spent most of my time with at the orphanage. Her aspirations: to be an English teacher in Vietnam.
Went to the Genocide burial grounds in Cambodia – truly disgusting how humans can turn on each other
Walked through the school that turned into a prison for individuals during the genocide—it was really the strangest feeling to walk through the cells and literally feel the change in energy from cell to cell, one which both my friend and I experienced simultaneously
Temple, after palace, after temple…
Day 2 – Siem Reap
Angkor Wat at Sunset – although I honestly don’t think that the building structures are that beautiful, the temple itself is beautiful – the largest of its kind, and a testament to the ingenuity of mankind
Overpriced silver and silk markets
Buffet dinner and beautiful traditional Cambodian dance show
Day 3- Angkor Wat at sunrise
Got up at 4am to watch Angkor Wat at sunrise – it was totally worth it!
Two more temples…
Played with and fed monkeys! – absolutely the highlight of my trip…
BEST FOOD HAD:
Sweet Potato Soup
And the BEST ICE CREAM I’VE EVER HAD: home made cinnamon and black sesame ice cream
FAVORITE CITY: With its historical temples and earthy feel, Siem Reap was definitely my favorite out of the two cities; while also historical, Pnomh Penh was more business and less culture, more people and less relaxation
FAVORITE THING DONE: Played with monkeys… // and watched the Taj at sunrise
Interesting things learned about Cambodia:
First thing I noticed: on the visa — ‘Welcome to the Kingdom of Cambodia’
The king and Buddha were often synonymous in the history of Cambodia
I saw a massage business that only employed blind masseuses
Now- people can express their opinions on the government, but can’t protest government
Cambodia is a land-locked, high importing country, so goods are more expensive
From 11-2pm, the factory workers (most of whom are women) go home for lunch and a siesta
American dollars are used and widely accepted everywhere in Cambodia— the ATM gave me American dollars
Cambodia is an ethnic melting pot of Indian and French and Chinese and Vietnamese
Has a growing tourist and local population attracted by the growing tourism industry —- About 3 million people/ year
Gasoline sold by homes that buy from gas stations to sell to scooters
Most people have a 2- kid limit because having a car is expensive, and a moped does not fit a bigger family
War stifled sports – so now they’re relatively new and bad at most sports, although kick boxing is very popular
Monkeys in fields are tired of bananas, so it’s better to give them cake or other fruit
Kids either go to school in the morning or in the afternoon and work in the morning or afternoon when they are not in school; children don’t have a sense of what they want to be when they grew up – have to change with the markets because sometimes they graduate and still can’t get a job
Red – Study Marxism; Leninism etc. In school — 11 yrs old– learned that the us was a destroyer and Russia a good protector– until 1991 when the un paris peace agreement opened things up and learned about the history of Angkor wat etc. Because it was a history of capitalism
Vietnam and Cambodia had a race to spread communism; Vietnam backed by Russia (Marxist), Cambodia backed by China (Maoist)
Even our tout guide had a new name by military– killed people who are too smart or know English/ French– they were ‘capitalist”
The people were told that there was not enough food — because of the ‘US’
Our tour guide, like many people during the Pol Pot regime became night blinded for four years from starvation; he was separated from his parents at the age of 4; at that age, he could not remember the place he lived in the city or his parents’ face, and since he was given a new name, they can never reunite with their parents – he met his sister for the first time in 2011 when she recognized him
The Khmer Rouge regime told him that everyone was his brother and sister
Angkor Wat was originally Hindu, then Buddhist – now, both Hindu and Buddhist faithfuls alike visit it
Angkor Wat means “City of monasteries” and was originally used for funeral temples
Indians believed in the caste systems, so they had different gates for the different castes to enter the different gate
Today, Cambodia has a good blend of Buddhism and Hinduism because both came to Cambodia at the same time
Buddhists believed that everyone is the same, so when it became a Buddhist temple, people were allowed to enter and leave from any door
The temples are reformed and restored by other countries – India, Germany, japan, US, France
People practiced the religion of the king — if he was Buddhist or Hindu etc. Causing conflict among the people
As the only non-Caucasian in the group that I was traveling in, I noticed that the begging children did not come up to me to ask for money…i can’t pinpoint the exact reason why, but it was definitely interesting for me
There are still 2000 land mines in Cambodia; it costs $1million to clear each one
Monks smell nice
Streets a lot calmer than Vietnam
A lot of pharmacies because people go directly to them for solutions; there is no public health
Odd number is a symbol of life; even number a symbol of death
Marxist from Russia and Maoist from china
Being a relatively new city, Singapore was designed for urban perfection. This is evident in its tidy streets and impressive societal organization. With the help of my friends and their friends, in the midst of all of the structure, I was able to find some unplanned fun.
Fun/cool Stuff I did:
Went to the Beach – Stephanie and I decided to take the nearby cable car across the bay to Singapore’s beach. Little did we know that it would be a mini- Disney World, a structured utopia for family and tourists to quench their thirst for relaxation; there, we decided to luge down a hill, once semi-tipsy with over-priced drinks that we bought by the beach, instead of finding a restaurant to eat lunch… a mistake I hope I won’t make again!
Joined Andrea’s friends for beautiful views of Singapore and a refreshing visit to Gardens by the Bay, an indoor botanical paradise
Had dinner by the water at Glutton’s Bay, its name, accurately describing the outdoor food stalls that line one of the streets with local international gastronomes
Went out to Clarke Quay, a heavily populated area with bars and night-goers, as well as Zouk, ‘one of the world’s top 5 night clubs’, probably because of the diversity of the music in all of the four of its rooms, from indie–to-techno-to-r&b and hip hop, it was truly a unique experience
Early morning church service at my friend’s church, The Star – most of the time, a concert hall, but on Sundays, a church that houses over 5000 faithfuls each week; the vibe and was pretty much as entertaining as a concert… there were so many people that they handed out the Eucharist in these conveniently packaged containers
Walked around Bugis, an indoor, friendly-priced market
Hung out and caught up with Joyce (one of my best friends from the first voyage who lives in Singapore) over food … for 5 hours, before exchanging ‘see ya soons’ and boarding the ship again
BEST FOOD HAD:
This dessert: Earl Grey Ice Cream
FAVORITE CITY: Singapore is a City, a Country, and a State – all in one; my favorite part of Singapore is the area where my friend’s home is located, in a conserved part of the city, where a forest surrounds her home– I’m pretty sure a rooster was crowing as we began to close our eyes during our one-hour nap between the club we went to and her early morning Church service at 8am
FAVORITE THING DONE: Caught up with Joyce// Had dinner by the bay with new and old friends – It reminded me of the numerous picnics I had on the banks of the River Seine in Paris, making me realize that people always gravitate towards the water, literally and figuratively, a sign of life
Interesting things learned about Singapore:
You can be fined for spitting, littering
You can be fined and arrested for gum
It has the (per capita) greatest concentration of millionaires in the world
It is relatively diverse, composed of Chinese, Malay, Indian peoples, with a 47% expat population
It has so many highly educated women without spouses, who the government wants having babies (because they’ll be smart babies), so the government set up a government agency that has matchmaking services
The country spends 20% of its income on education
It’s 30% atheist, but the Christian church that I attended with my friend had over 5000 people in it for a 2hr service on a Sunday at 8:30am, which is representative of the overarching sense of duty and commitment that is prevalent in the society
For me, Myanmar was wondering whether to call it Burma or Myanmar; asking if the water was safe to drink; trying to figure out if that cute dog across the street was rabid – not worrying about traveling alone, especially as a woman – being jealous of a man taking a shower (as I hadn’t showered for 5 days) – leaving your bags on the floor for hours, as you played with the local children – being the first locals to ever set foot on a village (and the experience of awe when I saw that) – where kids trade empty glass bottles for ice cream – probably one of the only countries where the cars have a right-wheel drive, and also drive on the right side of the road…
The moment that we got to Myanmar, I left on a tour planned by my friend Aurora – and from the moment we got on the bus, I knew it would be a great trip. All 12 of us just had great energy, which resonated throughout our bus. We had a great personal tour guide, sleeping in schools, visiting and seeing people from the local villages, who had not seen more than 10,000 foreigners at that time.
Fun/ Cool / Enlightening Stuff done:
Have you ever been to a place that just makes you happy? Without even having done anything, I felt content just being in Burma – the sights, the smells – everything just seemed so raw
As we drove overnight to our hotel, this is pretty much all that I would be exposed to, through the dismal fog that enveloped the roads in the nighttime I was able to notice a slower pace of life than I would be accustomed to, people actively selling things and conducting business at 1am, and eventually, having sight of our super –quaint, family run hotel.
At the hotel, I met a retired French lady who’s now traveling the world; she’d been to every country in Asia but China because she didn’t feel safe traveling alone; I introduced her to Couchsurfing, so hopefully she can use it to accomplish her goal
We had a scenic drive to the elephant village where we’d be staying for the night, but before getting to the jungle, we stopped at this unofficial temple on the side of the road to pray to the ‘Spirit of the Jungle’
Once there, I was surprised to see that the mayor of the village is a female
We got to see women getting water from a well – those who repeat the process of carrying the bamboo-filled water jugs 4-5 times a day
We also saw a lady weaving a blanket from outside of her window, which takes her 3 weeks to a month, and only sells for about $20
We were served moose for dinner, which to them was not as exotic as it is for us
We spent the day relaxing, riding elephants, which was literally more scary to me than the time I sky dived – needless to say, I think that the elephant that I was on really felt my fear, being the only one that was having trouble climbing up one of the steep hills that we needed to overcome
All the while, I realized that I’ve never been such a spectacle, with villagers coming out to see us and laugh at us riding elephants
Before heading back to the ship, we go up to watch elephants at work, mostly consisting of pulling logs and lifting heavy items – we were reminded that most of the reasons why the wild elephants are angry is because humans are cutting down the trees that create their habit; it was really ironic to see them working to cut down these very trees
Before heading back to the ship, we ran out of gas, making us have to wait for an hour until another bus came to give us some more. This would’ve never happened in the States, at least not so casually, which reminded me yet again of the difference in pace of life.
In the meantime, I had the opportunity to see children trading bottles for ice cream (alcohol companies’ methods of recycling) and shared an amazing watermelon with my friends and the people of the village who sold it to us – as we were walking, we happened to stumble upon the ‘watermelon man’, who led us to his convenience store where we ended up eating it
My friend and I walked through the Yangon/Rangoon during the day, venturing through the bustling city, which surprised us with dozens of donut shops…
After being amazed by the Shwedagon Pagoda (the largest Pagoda in Myanmar), we wanted to find a restaurant that was recommended for us in the city, but we ended up being drawn by really loud music in the middle of a side street. We held back at first because we thought it was a protest, but we were surprised to see that it was actually an Indian wedding.
Among the beautifully/brightly colored saris, there we were, sweaty and casually dressed, but dancing among the hundreds of people that populated the street. They even invited us into the wedding ceremony (where we got to shake the hands of the bride and groom) and then for dinner, which was probably better than the restaurant that we would’ve found.
Lesson of the day: whenever there’s music, follow it
I went to watch a monk’s convocation and invocation ceremony, which was incredible!
To avoid being in traffic, the government paid for a police on a motorcycle to escort us to the monastery…
Because our program donated about $5,000 for the ceremony, we were able to take part in the procession. Some of us were given gold chalices to present to the Buddha, but I was given a silver one with small monies and candy… not as cool, or so I thought before I realized that I was actually a walking piñata! Throughout the ceremony, I was told to randomly through the money and the candy into the street (no wonder the kids kept were only standing next to me).
During the procession, I had two little girls holding my hand. Seeing a ditch ahead of us, I tried to avoid them falling in by picking them up before the ditch and pointing downwards… but guess who ends up falling into the ditch, breaking her shoes, and bringing the little girl down with her? Haha, that’s right. The director of the monastery graciously bought me new flip-flops.
After the procession, we were able to feed over 1,000 monks (both male and female), who did this each day for food. The food was both vegetarian and non-vegetarian and all combined in this wooden bowl that they’re given upon becoming monks.
Best Food Had: Coconut Rice!
Favorite City: — The places we were in Myanmar were pretty undifferentiated, except for Yangon, which was interesting, but I did not spend enough time there to truly get to know it.
Favorite Thing Done: Rode an Elephant – Watched a Lady Practice her Afternoon Weaving
Interesting things learned about Myanmar:
China helps the country, particularly in the development of the country’s infrastructure, but they don’t help for free. In exchange, they take Myanmar’s natural resources, such as their copper mines and natural gas; they also support the insurgence against the government.
The army still controls the government
The government allows people to name their kids or to have American names
The government really attempts to separate tourists from locals; our tour guide needed to get official documentation from the local government to be able to get us to the village we were going to. Ask locals about politics? This puts them at risk of imprisonment.
The country is slowly, but progressively transitioning from a dictatorship to a democracy
Ethnic cleansing still exists — the US just counted its 50,000th Burmese refugee
2 weeks before my arrival, the constitution was amended to say that the military would not hold the majority of the power, at which point all political prisoners were released from jail
Myanmar was military ruled from 1962 to 2010
Myanmar has friendly relations with China
Politics are not allowed as common conversation – even in a ‘tea house’
The country just resumed foreign relations in January 2012
There is still heavy fighting because the north of Burma wants to break away
The government is buying weapons from India
The country was socialist until 1988; now, it’s 1/2 socialist and 1/2 democratic, with the ultimate goal of it being fully democratic by 2015
People only live to be 65? The thought that I would only live to be this old is beyond me – there is so much I want to accomplish, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to accept the fact that you won’t be able to because of an inevitable, societal timeline
In Burma, kids sleep in bed with their parents even when they’re older
Some of the shrines won’t let women go all the way in or all the way up where the men are allowed to go
Smiling all the time isn’t perceived to be weird or crazy
Women and men alike still use face paint made from Thanat Khar, a tree, which is mixed with water on a stone and put on the face to create ‘smoothing, cooling, refreshing and good-smelling’ effect
Many kids can read but not speak English, since they don’t have anyone to practice with
People don’t have a (hereditary) last name – one is named based on one’s birth date, which is usually one name only, preferably a ‘lucky name’, which is important for a good life
People gift each other and receive gifts with two hands
Cursing is frowned upon; tattoos are also frowned upon, since it’s seriously hard to get a job w/ tattoos, although young people tend to think they’re ‘sexy’
Myanmar drives on the right side of the road but with the steering wheel on the right side of the car as well; they also use the US metric system
I found that people speak more English in Burma than they do in China and in Japan
Men are way more touchy-feely towards each other than we’re accustomed to: our tour guide and the driver had just met, and they were cuddling together in bed and gave each other kisses on the cheek as well as a slap in the butt goodbye
Women are paid $2.50/day and men $3/day for working on the side of the street
The country has a heavy embargo system
Thailand, China, and India are its largest trading partner. Myanmar imports a lot, especially medicine and plastic
Unemployment is only 5.4%; rice is its biggest export, along with jade and gems, which big companies like Tiffany’s refuse to buy because of the country’s political history
Only 32% of Burmese have access to electricity
March 2012 the date when foreigners could start businesses without needing local partners
The country has the lowest healthcare expenditures in the world – the country only spends 3% on healthcare; healthcare is ‘free’, but the individuals need to spend money for the necessary medications and supplies
Only 1% of people have access to Internet — most of which are hotels
Teachers charge extra for tutoring/ extra learning, meaning that they often don’t fully teach what they need to, in order to receive payment for the respective lesson
1/4 of the population lives below the poverty line
Myanmar is one of the world’s largest producers (and exporters) of opium
Myanmar has no middle class- it used to, but corruption caused it to dwindle
Companies are lined up to do business in Myanmar in 2015
Wherever I went, everyone gave me the local prices, meaning that they were not trying to rip us off
50-60% of all tourists in Myanmar are French tourists
Most of the time, Burmese people can understand each other’s language but they can’t speak to each other
Monks are part of a ‘royal family’– people in royal families put on makeup, so the monks, even the boys put on lipstick and blush.
Monks here don’t eat from noon to 5:30 am
For many children, being a monk helps them get our of poverty, as after they go through the monk ceremony, they can ask for free food and can have a free place to live. Otherwise, the other option is to go into the police academy, which is free – but school isn’t?? This goes to show you where the government has its priorities…
Boys stay in a monastery for a week; they wake up at 4:30am, collect free food on bare feet for 2-3hrs, and once they have breakfast and lunch, they can not have anymore meal. For this reason, many monks are caught hiding snacks around the monastery to eat at night
Every Buddhist boy needs to be changed into a monk at least once in his life
Obama wasn’t allowed to go to the Shwedagon Pagoda (Myanmar’s largest pagoda) because everyone there needs to take of their shoes, and his security guards thought that this would be a threat, should he need to run away at any given point. He went anyway.
Fun/ Cool / Enlightening Stuff done:
This day was filled with transporting ourselves to Delhi, which involved 2 cab rides and 2 plane rides, with a layover in Mumbai.
Needless to say, we were elated to finally get to our hotel, which was really quaint.
Day 2 – New Delhi
We spent the day in New Delhi, with a tour guide who wasn’t particularly open-minded, but who definitely knew a lot about India and who wanted to impart his knowledge upon us. This was mostly because, as we learned, there are only 200 tour guides a year who are approved each year in India; becoming a tour guide is both challenging and lucrative.
With him, we went tea/spice tasting at a place that has been in business since 1917, and which provides teas for places like Teavana and Harney & Sons. The owner there tastes anywhere from 400-500 different kinds of teas each day
We also went to some of the historic parts of Delhi, including a mosque and the Tower of Delhi, during which we were exposed to the great diversity of India, particularly its Hindu-Islamic presence. He let us know that the tower closed 10 years ago because people were jumping off it to commit suicide.
My absolute favorite part of the day was a Rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. The pictures and the videos really don’t do it justice, as it neglects the sensory experience: despite the muddy ground that seeped down the middle of the roads after the rain, the cows and goats that roamed the streets among the innumerable amounts of bikes, cars, and mopeds — the colorful saris and fabrics that lined the sides of the street along with the rich smell of spices and tea and incense that enveloped the narrow roads, seriously made my heart race.
Following this ride, our guide took us to this underground restaurant, which is apparently one of the best in Asia: my taste buds agreed. Over this meal, among other things, he talked to us about Indian society and his (generally positive) views on it, versus American society, which he categorized as being individualistic, and ‘always with headphones on’, trying to show off their music and isolating themselves from the rest of the world. We ended our time with him with some chai tea from a seller on the side of the road, which was definitely the best chai we had the entire time I was in India – this says a lot, since I averaged 3 a day…
Following our time with him, we had a long drive to Agra. Our driver recounted the story of how had to stop going to school because his father grew ill and he had to be the breadwinner. Despite my attempts to ask him what he wanted to do with his life eventually, he continued to say ‘no, mam, I don’t have any credentials that’s why’. His life was dedicated to his family. He continued to tell me about his love life, how he had a girlfriend but that his family did not know about her… nor did hers know about him. They are in different ‘class systems’, which means that they could never marry, so they see themselves in secret and await the (shortly anticipated) day when she marries a man who her family does see is ‘fit’ for her. That night, as most of the nights when he is out working, he slept in the car.
The foggy morning didn’t realize my elusive vision of seeing the Taj Mahal at sunrise, but I did get to see the magnificent structure, learning how it took 22 years to build because each stone that was put into it had to be blessed. I was fascinated, mostly by the little things that made the structure so great: like the way that it was decorated with half of the flowers blooming and half of them wilting and dying, and the fact that it was built for the king’s wife to serve as her mausoleum – the grandest physical manifestation of love. I was grateful to have gone when I did, since its construction on a riverbank means that it will probably degrade and sink within the next 5-40 years.
The highlight of my day was probably feeding the cutest little things I saw all over India: squirrels.
The rest of our day was spent, very slowly, shopping for things that we didn’t need, but oh so beautiful. The colorful garments in India are like no other: as unexpectedly happens with nice vendors who genuinely want to get to know you, we were given a discount for our Kurtas (casual Indian dresses), at literally 50% off. He also offered us free alterations and some chai tea while we waited… moments that remind me of the beauty of humanity.
At night, we saw a different side of Delhi, at a mall that was nicer than the ones I mostly frequent in the states, from your Sephoras to your Louis Vuittons – it was all there. After realizing that we had stepped back into the ‘Western World’, we left for a night market that had closed down early because of the rain, finding a sari shop that was open during late hours.
The entire time I was in India, I was searching for a turquoise and gold sari – for some reason, I couldn’t seem to find one that I was particularly crazy about, but upon hearing my specifications, all of the vendors in the three different stores that I went to would literally bring out dozens of different options, which actually made the situation that much harder for me (to choose). Eventually, my friend, who didn’t even want a sari bargained so low for one (hoping that the guy would reject her offer and that we could leave) that she was the one who actually ended up with a beautiful turquoise and gold sari – and at a fantastic price!
An early flight to Mumbai set the stage for a lot of things to do during the day and that evening – it turns out that we spent most of the day sitting and philosophizing on my Couchsurfer’s couch- and although we didn’t actually ‘do’ anything during the day, our afternoon was spent with great company, great conversation, great food delivered, and genuine, heartfelt laughter – what more could we have asked for?
Ashwin and his roommates were such fun-spirited intellectuals; as Bollywood filmmakers, they introduced us to the many challenges they face, as well as the many wonders of their world. Ashwin eventually took us to get henna tattoos, as well as out for some amazing exotic Indian ice cream, and helped me to get my shoes fixed for under 50 cents.
That evening, we stayed at the apartment, for a part II philosophizing session, as well as a Taboo game and apparently me passing out on the couch with a smile on my face.
An indecisive morning led us to have a slow lunch near the apartment and a really eventful train ride into the center of Mumbai, where open doors led people to literally hang off the side of the crowded trains – numerous people dying each day because of train accidents (see my blurb on Indian trains at the end).
The intensity of the afternoon heat was just making me want to go inside, but we ended up giving in to the tour operator that insisted on following us around as we tried to get a picture of the Gateway of India. He sold my friend over, (and eventually me over with his 600 rupee per person (10$) ) 3-hr tour of a slum, a Gandhi museum, a mausoleum, and a Jain temple, which he said would have a festival going on as we spoke, only open to tourists on the day that we were there (which eventually turned out wasn’t true).
The most poignant parts of the tour were the visit to the Gandhi museum where we learned about the letters that he wrote to Hitler and Roosevelt advocating peace and how he adopted South Africa as his second home because he wanted to fight racial discrimination there.
The tour also led us to a slum where over 5000 pieces of clothing are washed each day, and where, converse to popular belief, only the men wash are allowed to wash the clothes (while the women fold). There are only a few washing machines in the area, most of which are owned by a single company, and that are only used during the monsoon season, when the pieces of clothing cannot be dried in the usual hour’s time.
From a beautiful park, we could see a skyscraper, which is the most expensive house in the world, which houses 6 members of a business mogul’s family, while employing over 500 staff.
The tour ended with a view of the Tower of Silence, which is where Persians in India leave dead bodies to be eaten by vultures and eagles, believed to complete the cycle of life for them (the mentality is that humans eat animals, and likewise, animals should be able to eat us).
The tour ended at a market, where we decided to split off after having expressed our interest in shopping for different things and only having two hours to do so. I ended up at this department store that looked like it had bangles that I would want. It turns out that the place didn’t have the nicest bangles, but it did have the nicest salesman I could’ve ever imagined; as he took me through the different levels of the store that he managed, Jaysh, as he was called ended up making me want to buy those bangles that I didn’t even feel like I liked. After asking him where he thought I could find some Henna, he volunteered to take me to the place where they would sell it, walking me through a beauty supply warehouse and even helping me to find the secret to the beautiful Indian hair: Mahabhringaraj Oil. He left me outside, asking me to return to his store when I was done shopping around to take a picture with him: I promised that I would.
I wandered through the busy streets, venturing into this wedding store that looks like it would have a Buddha statue that I convinced myself I was looking for; they didn’t have a Buddha, but the vendor directs me across the street, where she believes they will have one.
In the store, I am greeted by a man who offers me a discount on the 13 glass trees that I insisted on buying for my family, and in between our basic conversation about how I (to his confusion) was not Indian and about SAS/ what I was doing in India, his interest shifted to talking about astrology – how he was the Year of the Horse like my mother, and how I was a water sign (like most people on the ship because they were born during years that ended in 02 or 03), and how I was the year of the rooster – which led him to gift me a wooden rooster. Eventually he showed me a flyer for ‘reconnective healing’, which is exactly what he does – a few minutes later, I agree to a free session, which involves him simply touching my lower, mid, and upper back with one hand – I’m not sure if it was the Vick’s-like sensation that I got, or the literal transmission of energy (as heat) that did it, but immediately after he finished, I turned around to him being completely zoned out. I felt awkward ‘awakening’ him, so I stayed quiet, hoping that it wouldn’t be too long, since I had to meet my friends in 20 minutes. In the meantime, the store gets a phone call, which one of his employees in Hindi, but I definitely understood the word ‘meditation’, as he turned around to look at Anil who was still ‘out’ behind me. A few seconds later, he awakes, asking me how I feel, which I say ‘better, more relaxed’ – which I did, almost as one feels after a massage, although not quite as relaxed. He asks me if I can touch my toes, which I say that I can’t, but he insists that I try, which I do – and I do, in fact, touch my toes, with little to no effort. At this moment, my mind is blown, but it was only the start…
Anil, whose name I learned after he had ‘healed me’, offers to drive my friends and I to the station where we can take a train back to Ashwin’s apartment. At this point, I feel so comfortable with him that I agree, but emphasizing that I first have to stop by this man’s shop for a picture that I promised him. I realize that having wandered vastly away from where I had left my friends, I didn’t know where I was, luckily, my pre-2 hr self envisioned this happening, so I took a picture of the storefront where I had left them, and I also had a video of my friend at the department store, as he was helping me to try on some bangles. On my way to showing Anil the picture of the storefront, he sees the video, and I tell him that that is where I have to go first, and whether or not he knew this man. He excitedly replies, yes, emphasizing the fact that he does not know may people in the area, but that Jaysh is definitely one of the ones that he does.
He takes me to Jaysh’s shop, where both of them happily greet each other, as we exchange pictures and contact information for one another before we part- it must be that genuinely nice people really do find each other.
We leave the store, late to meet my friends, and as we’re walking through the crowded streets, he asks me who he should be looking out for, “blonde, Irish”? I say yes, at first thinking he had said something else, but then in awe at his correct guess, since that combination is pretty specific. A turned corner later, I point to the friend that he had described, who was sitting alone waiting for other friend Christina, I begin explaining to Nora what just happened before Christina shows up, clearly uncomfortable with the fact that I am with an older man. I tell them that he has offered us a ride, which they both seem to a bit uncomfortable with, but which they don’t question, especially after I hand them the bracelets that he made sure to get for each of them before we left the shop (which happened to match their (black and yellow/ blue and red, respectively) colored clothing perfectly).
A walk through a ‘short-cut’/ shady alley later, and we get to his friend’s car, where we pile on and begin a conversation that was literally out of this world. Christina and Anil discover their mutual love for conspiracy, guiding the conversation along with topics on how 9/11 was an inside job to how the fluoride that people are putting in our water is slowly killing us, to how people are being conquered by ‘Presstitutes’, how he survived the 2008 bomb in Mumbai, how all 5 of us but he were water signs, how pills can kill, and how he didn’t even know what made him want to get up from his chair and attend to me when I walked into the store…
As if the ride wasn’t enough, he remembered that I hadn’t eaten dinner, so he insisted on getting us to a nice French restaurant near his home, where I had an amazing cheese/balsamic crepe – of course, I didn’t expect him to pay for that, but at the same time, after all he had done, it didn’t surprise me.
Our Couchsurfer, Ashwin was more into seeing a film that night than going out, and when we brought it up to Anil, he agreed to let us leave our stuff at his place and to help us get to the airport the next morning. We ended up at his friend’s super nice apartment, where I immediately noticed that he collected snow globes ❤ we bonded over that and over the fact that we were vegetarians (our reasons being very similar), and just life in general.
He ended up giving me an Indian snow globe, after I told him that they were hard to find. Within 5 minutes, I drop it on the floor and crack it, water gushing out of it and onto his floor. He consoled me, saying that just that morning he had dropped a glass cup in front of his brother in law, and that his mother said that it was good luck? – Something like that. Either way, our conversations continued to flow, specifically amazed over the fact that all of our birthdates were conducive to the number ‘8’ – either being born on the 26th (2+6), on the 17th, (1+7), or on the 8th, (June 8th) like me.
We venture out of his apartment, headed towards this bar in a rickshaw, which they very cutely call ‘tuk tuks’, right after leaving the tuk tuk, I bump into this girl who looks very familiar to someone I know, specifically, my friend Laetitia, who I knew lived somewhere in India. I think to myself – ‘nah, it can’t be her. I probably just subconsciously want it to be her, since I know that she’s in India somewhere.’ As she’s walking away, the thought that it might be her, however elevates, and I take the chance to yell her name out… I am surprised to see that she turns around, at which point I run into her, and both of us, in shock, cannot believe what just happened. Not only am I informed that she lives an hour away from this encounter, but that it’s a Thursday night, and that the only reason why she’s out this late on a work week is that she went on a date to meet her fiancé’s parents. We caught up on each other’s lives, as well as our work in New York, and her wedding happening shortly in Australia. The strangest part about our encounter was that for the past few days, I had been telling both Christina and Nora about the fact that I had a friend in India whom I would love to see, but that I didn’t think we’d have enough time and that I didn’t know exactly where in India she was… that encounter answered my question!
After the bar, which closed down relatively early, we decide to go to a nearby club, right outside of the bar where I had bumped into Laetitia a few minutes back, I look up and there’s a florist shop called ‘June 8’…. Needless to say, after our discussion on everyone’s birthday, everyone understood why I was so shocked… only furthering my assumption that despite Anil saying that the United States is the new place for spirituality, India is still on a completely different level of spirituality that I definitely can’t wait to come back to.
After an exciting time in Mumbai, we got back to Cochin, which is an especially calm beachside city. After venturing through the less touristy areas of the city, we ended up at a roadside shack for lunch, where I had the best food I had in India vvv.
After we advised him that he should have iced coffee and iced chai tea for the tourists, the owner insisted that they were great ideas, but that growing his business beyond his ability was not he was particularly looking to do. Maxim (as his restaurant was called) said that ‘everyone is looking for the money, but that he was just looking to live’.
Speaking of money: after failing miserably at finding my friend the maxi skirt that she had asked me for, I was drawn to an antique shop in Cochin. There, the owner of the store, an older lady insisted that ‘some times we can’t buy things that we want’ – speaking of this beautiful box that I was short $2 (for which I was definitely not going to retrieve more money, especially since it was my last 2 hours in India). I was actually quite impressed with her strong business mind, which reminded me a lot of my mother. She continued to tell me her story – how her husband died and how she manages the store — and of how she had seen Cochin grow and develop from one of the poorest places in India when she started 68 years ago to how it has developed. She ended up letting me keep the box even with the $2 that I was short and helped me to find my friend a skirt, which she gave me for free.
Here’s her email to me:
“ Hello Earlene,
Thank you for your mail and more so for your visit to our store, it was nice meeting you and I’m glad we could exchange a few thoughts and ideas. Very glad to note that you were impressed with what you saw while you were here. We have been here for almost 70 yrs now, and so have seen it all. This little town of ours has grown from scratch to a must visit spot today. Hard to imagine so! We have so many early and wonderful memories of it. It’s changed today and wonder what it will be like tomorrow. Must confess that we miss the old times and old friends.
Nice to hear what you had to say. Yes I continue to work in the shop, something I have been doing for almost 68 yrs now. It keeps me going as I have practically met the whole world from my seat here, just as I met you.
Nice meeting you. Take care and have a good life.
The dress looks lovely and the box was always to big favourite with the tourists here.
Best Food Had: Cheese Dosa;
Coconut Rice &
Favorite City: Mumbai
Favorite Thing Done: The drive through the narrow roads of Old Delhi on a rickshaw
Interesting things learned about India:
Muslims are buried with face towards Mecca
Muslims in India are allowed to have up to 3 wives
‘There are more festivals in India than days in a year’
The ‘red dot’ (Hindu) women wear on their foreheads represents the fact that she is married and that her husband is still alive
Cows are sacred and also everywhere roaming the streets because people aren’t allowed to touch them
Four religions have started in India – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhism, Jainism- but still 81% of Indians are Hindu
India is the only country in the world that has never attacked any country
The tower of Delhi, which was erected by one of the ancient Indian kings (Muhammad Ghori) who appointed one of his ‘slaves’ king before he left for Persia. Interestingly enough, in India, ancient kinds would appoint their slaves as king, but they would only be slaves if they were fit to someday be king.
In India it’s not illegal to beat your wife because ‘she’s your property’
Ashwin’s roommate enlightened me on the difference between the peace movements in the Unites States, versus the peace movements in India. He said that the former was founded on freedom and peace but also lack of restraint (drugs and sexual liberty), whereas the latter was founded in religion, emphasizing peace through restraint and self-surrender.
There are 29 separate states in India with completely different cultures; In India, there are 332 + languages; with dialects it equates to over 18,0000 languages
In India, people are trained in yoga and meditation in school; there are approximately 20 different types of yoga; about 20% of population does yoga, but being the second largest country in the world in terms of population, this equates to a lot of people
A lot of the time, food is consumed with spoons
It is extremely rude to ask a man’s salary and a woman’s age
There is a low divorce rate in India because people are so socially involved in the marriages
How arranged marriages work: parents get pictures of girls whom they think are fit; their son sees the pictures and then they go meet the ones they like; the parents of the girl along with the girl meet the boy’s parents’ and they settle the arrangement together
It is rude to settle bills/ split money in public
It was such a pleasure for me to see signs of places that were ‘veg & non veg’, which made finding food for me that much easier
Most of the advertisements I saw in India were of what seemed to be un-photoshopped people, many of which were not the typical ‘thin/perfect’ models we are used to seeing in the West
The toilet seats always had the seat up—the small things that reminded me of the prevalence of the patriarchal society.
Perhaps it was the heat, but I noticed that most women have their hair clipped back for their daily routines; I hold that Indian women have the most beautiful hair in the world
National sport of India is field hockey; but cricket is more prevalent/preferred
Men and women are greatly separated. On the trains in Mumbai, men and women are on separate carts, unless the woman is the man’s wife. At weddings men dance with men – women don’t dance with men – even at the wedding the bride and groom/men and women sit separated from one another.
Sometimes, women are killed because men don’t want to pay divorce ‘maintenance fees’ – they are often burned, planned to look like a cooking burn accident
Hijrahs – transgendered 3rd gender people were accepted in Indian society until the British imposed their moral laws of making illegal anything and everything that wasn’t towards the ultimate goal of procreating and creating an environment that would eventually lead to sexual reproduction
Part of the (historical) reason why women wear henna at weddings is so that a female does not have to work for her husband until the henna fades away, which incentives them to make it as dark as possible, pouring lemon and sugar on it to preserve it
Aryuvedic medicine prevalent in cochin India ie the Keralan area — considered one of the official governmental healing methods: one’s health is connected to the universe — harmony of the mind, body, and spirit; Dosha = life forces that are in balance when one is healthy and is associated with 5 elements- fire, water, earth, air, either/ space. We each need different ratios of these forces. Stanford has started a homeopathy/ natural medicine program
White cars are very popular in India
Kerala, in the South is the wealthiest part of India, unlike most countries where the wealthier parts of the nation are in the north.
Abortions and sterilizations are free in India.
Only sons can enable parent’s reincarnation/inherit parent’s estate – females are seen as worthless humans who have to pay a dowry and are a burden to their families – There are many advertisements that say ‘spend 500 rupees now, save 50,000 rupees later’ – speaking of getting ultrasounds/abortions, instead of having to pay for a daughter’s dowry
Some women in the North of India go to the South of India to be surrogates for 9 months, leaving their families in order to get $5000
Trains in India:
People hanging on side of train- multiple people die each day — first class/ second class— women and men are separated
Lady drying her clothes on the train tracks
Jainism is one of the three religions founded in India (along from Hindu, Buddhism), which emphasizes not harming other beings, which means that one cannot step on the grass, or kill small bugs, or to eat animals, or root vegetables because root vegetables are often a source of food and habitat for many microorganisms
Men get on first- women and men together if husband and wife
Despite the rain, which prevailed during the few hours that we had in Mauritius, our Couchsurfer, Kevin definitely made our day. Not only did he pay a nearly $450 deposit for our subscooters, but he helped us to organize transportation and food the entire time, without having even met us! He made it our pleasure to pay for him to join us on our adventure for the day, especially because he helped us to get back to the ship just 10 minutes before we needed to be on the ship before getting ‘dock time’.
Here is his email to us:
“:-( missing you people 😦 …. wish you could stay a little bit more , am sure it would have been AWESOME. but yeah, I understand you had to get back…
You are welcome, but I should thank you all as well for paying for me to join you- I really reallyyy appreciated and that touched my heart, seriously. You and all are the first couch surfers I met who are so damn C O O L . I really loved the day spend with you.
Glad to meet u Earlene, and nice that you brought your cool friends. It was super great… do tell to everyone – I LOVE YOU ALL AND WE ARE FRIENDS FOR EVER ZO WE JUST MET. I REALLY HAD A GREAT TIME AND YOU GUYS ARE REALLY COOL. I ADORE YOU ALL, I CAN NEVER EVER FORGET YOU. And am sorry for things that went wrong :-)). Wish you enjoyed the moment spend 🙂.
Ask everyone to send me some of the pictures through email if possible.
Not to forget the last picture click, with Stephanie or I don’t remember the name well, but We took a last click with Kayla and the the nice friend with piecing down the nose.”
Best Food Had: Pineapple Flambé (flamed pineapple)
Favorite City: We were only in and around Port Louis
Favorite Thing Done: Underwater Scooters – we rented out these miniature submarines, which allowed us to explore the deep sea life of the island.
Interesting things learned about Mauritius:
Mauritius is the only place on earth where the Dodo bird existed and later became extinct; it died off because people realized that they could kill off a whole species, so they did…
Because of its geographic location between countries of trade, Mauritius has such a large blending of culture- from Chinese, to Indian, French to British, and each sought to preserve their own culture, making it still have a strong individual presence of each among the blend
Kaya, a singer-songwriter blended music as a protest music, and was imprisoned because of it
On the ship, I always look forward to getting to the different ports – in a way that’s new and exciting, not necessarily out of need.
South Africa was different – although I’d already been there, I’d physically been having difficulty breathing on the ship, and out of sheer stupidity, I didn’t tell the ship doctor my symptoms for fear of being quarantined and held inside the ship when we got to South Africa.
South Africa not only cured me of my breathing difficulties, but by day 6, the sight of the ship came with more stressful thoughts than my usual relief after a stressful or invigorating time in port.
Fun/Enlightening Things Done:
For my Gender and Society course, my class and I explored the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and LGBTQII issues in South Africa.
Our first stop at the Langa Township, which is the oldest township in Cape Town, was home to Eziko Restaurant, which was housed in an old ship container. Inside it was extremely quaint; the charming interior was such a juxtaposition for the exterior surroundings, and the cruel hate crimes that were discussed as extremely prevalent throughout South Africa for the LGBTQII community. Our presenter spoke about the one time when she had to kidnap a girl that was being persecuted by her family for being a lesbian. Her father, being part of a gang had cars with covered license plates following her for days, which only stopped after she confronted him about it and got the police involved.
We proceeded to a church and then to an HIV/AIDS clinic, where we got to meet and speak to inspirational people who have been infected with the Virus. If nothing else, the experience made me realize that the deep stigma that people have associated with AIDS is actually more daunting than it should be. Yes, it is relatively more challenging for these men and women to live their daily lives, as they have to be more precautionary about carrying out a healthy lifestyle, but they, for the most part seemed quite enthusiastic about life, reminding us that they have chosen to be this way – happy and healthy, as we can all (for the most part) choose to be. It reminds me of the necessary solidarity and not the isolation that should be prevalent in our society in terms of people who are impaired, sick, or in any way disabled.
That evening, we made it to a soccer game outside of town, where, although many of the seats were empty, and the local team actually lost to the opposition, one could seriously feel the welcoming sensation of a vibrant crowd. For those few moments of chanting and cheering, we weren’t Americans – we weren’t foreigners – we were part of the team.
That night in Cape Town, we wandered through Long Street, where I specifically recall hanging out at with Alanna just two years back. Not much had changed, except the people that I was with – and myself.
I ended up losing my phone at one of the locations we frequented – my friend telling the bouncer who led us to the policemen outside; he said he might’ve seen who the guy was that stole it, pointing towards a car and beckoned him to let us in and to drive us to the station where he thought my phone was. We drove to the station, at first, the people not understanding what our issue was, but eventually leading us to the back of the station where a guy was held in the back of a car in a sort of human kennel. Real or fake tears poured down his cheek as he emphasized that he repeated that he hadn’t stolen my phone. At this point, I was over the whole situation, so I told him that if he did steal is, where was his ubuntu? And that either way, he should be let go. The bureaucracy of the scenario was seriously getting to me: paperwork after paperwork, I knew that I would never see my phone again. And honestly, where in the world do you ever have police driving around aimlessly in search of a phone?
After much deliberation, the cop agreed to escort my friend and I back to the ship, where after getting lost for about an hour, he graciously dropped us off.
An early morning opened up the doors for Stephanie and I to a full-day wine tasting tour in Stellenbosch, where our guide was exceptional in taking us everywhere from the fanciest to the most underground wineries, all while making us feel very comfortable, as wine amateurs that we are.
Our tour was quite small, with an elderly couple being our only companions for the day. Both of them were avid travelers, and were eager to impart their knowledge on us without being abrasive.
The best part of the day was finding out that our very humble tour guide and driver (self-proclaimed farmer and immigrant from Zimbabwe) is also the father of Candace Swanepole, arguably one of the most famous super models of all time. He confirmed this with the story of how she was recruited at a flea market and with personal pictures of her visiting her father in South Africa. His humility really shined through the entire day, as although he always mentioned her daughter and that he visited her regularly in New York, not once did he gear the conversation unnaturally towards her and towards her achievements.
Upon our return to the ship, our goal was to make it to the Jazz Festival, which had been sold out for quite some time now. Either way, we decided to just show up to it, and we were lucky enough to have two individuals sell it to us for the exact price that they had purchased it at. Inside the festival it was electrifying, with numerous stages set up inside and outside of the stadium. It was more organized than any festival I had been to in the States and in Europe, even with a crowd of about 1000 for Erica Badhu, who literally killed it on stage.
My friends and I had an early start to hike Table Mountain on a beautiful day where a rainbow disguised the morning showers. I had been told that it was quite a challenging hike, but I never thought that midway, I’d be losing my breath and that my lungs would be closing up even more than it had been in the past few days that I’d been having difficulty breathing. Luckily, my friends were understanding- actually, even more than that, they offered to bring me down the mountain and climb back up themselves.
A cable car up later, I spent my time exploring the top on my own, every second a different view, as the infamous cloud that covers the top of the mountain (like a tablecloth) provided me with different beautiful glimpses of the city.
I met my friends later that afternoon for a picnic and a concert in the botanical gardens of the city, which was beautifully situated on a hill that was nestled between the surrounding mountains. Once again, the atmosphere just gave way for a beautiful evening that ended debating the GMOs in our food and dancing away at Caprice’s in Camp’s Bay.
After going to the Ghandi Museum in Mumbai, I was inspired by Ghandi’s opening of an Ashram in South Africa, so I decided to go on a solo-retreat once I got there to kind of slow down and reflect on the voyage this far.
Because of how late I got back to the ship that night, I was only running on 3 hours of sleep, to the point where the security guard was still on her evening ship when I walked back out to meet the shuttle to drive me to the retreat. Even she noticed my reckless schedule, so needless to say, the retreat came at a right time.
I stand outside of the ship, waiting for Andre to pick me up. In the meantime, I venture to the food truck outside of the ship to buy a water bottle, where the vender entertains me with questions about where I’m going and how much it’ll cost. She is as surprised by the $12 that is will cost each way as I was, offering me her cell phone to contact Andre.
He eventually arrives, and I choose to sit in the back seat where I check email once more for the price of the 2-hour drive. It turned out that I had, in fact misread the email, and that it was actually $120 each way and not $12… Immediately, I asked Andre to pull over, letting him know my situation, and that I had misread the email. He very agreeably decides to help me find another retreat center nearby, eventually offering to let me stay at a home that he manages for the owner, which is located near his home. He confirms that there is WIFI, which would be the only thing I could entertain myself with for two days, aside from the meditation recordings my friend had given me on the ship.
On our way there, I had forgotten that I wasn’t able to get to my retreat – this was masked by the beautiful scenery and Andre’s compelling story about his struggles with Apartheid. I personally couldn’t tell that Andre was ‘black’, but he asserted that most of the people in the area could tell that he was. This meant that during Apartheid, he and his soon to be wife would need to sneak around in order to see each other – that they were refused entrance to many places even after Apartheid was over and they were married (as one of the first biracial couples at the time). Andre first discovered Cape Town (where he was born and raised) with his wife, because during Apartheid, he was not allowed to frequent the same places that the ‘whites’ did; even after they were married Andre was shy to hold his wife’s hand or to show any kind of affection in public. The effects were personally relevant to his daughter when she came home from school one day asking ‘what she was’.
We got to the house with a sign that said ‘Carpe Diem’ on it, (on 133 11th Street Voelklip, Hermanus), which is literally a 10-bedroom home with a private beach. The home that has a surround sound system in every room apparently goes for about $6 million and is rented out for $500 a night – I was able to stay there alone, and for free – hence the Instagram:
“Didn’t make it to my retreat, but my gracious cab driver offered to let me stay in the 10-bedroom/ beach front home that he manages – alone, and for free… Not only that, but he and his wife came back and made me dinner – just another reminder that #humansaregood and that I have to #payitforward #southafrica”
On my way to the house, I was expressing to Andre that I didn’t know why people always did nice things for me – that I almost felt undeserving and that all I knew was that I needed to do something to contribute to the world that has made my life so great – that I need to pay it forward.
Andre’s wife was literally the most humanitarian person I’ve ever met – with a genuine kindness that also extended to animals. She introduced herself to me, handing me a dying lizard, which she had removed from the counter. I’m pretty sure that it took its last breath on me.
She graced me with her positivity, driving me to the supermarket so that I could pick up some groceries, sharing our mutual theories on food and the dangers of GMOs and preservatives.
To top of off – they came back to the home a few hours after I had entertained myself taking videos and the following pictures of the home. They offered me a barbecue and wine, for no apparent reason other than to keep me company.
My last morning at Carpe Diem was spent calling my family, going in the pool, and being the only person in the beach, which was surprisingly warm despite the chilly weather and the intensity of the tides. I hiked up and down a few cliffs that lined the beach, which was a perfect cap on my morning meditation.
I was able to do a few ‘housekeeping’ things, like changing my flight from England to Iceland, contacting more Couchsurfers, working on my business plan, and journaling.
This was all before the masseuse arrived. He was included in my retreat package, and when I emailed to cancel with him, he offered to come to me (for only $10 more), since he lived nearby. It was truly another one of the blessings from my time there. The massage was more relaxing than I expected it to be. I’m usually pretty awkward with things like this, but Henri was older and very professional, so I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. As he taught me exercises to do each morning for my scoliosis and consequently focused on massaging my spine, my mind wandered to places I never thought it would – back to my aunt’s apartment in New York City – the way her kitchen smelled and how all of my cousins and I would jump on the king sized bed that was the only thing I can picture fitting in that room.
After the massage, I was kind of ready to be back in society. After asking Henri what my best options were for going into town, he offered to drive me there – not accepting any money for it, and even wondering what the ‘bonus’ $5 I gave him were for.
I wandered through the town that I was surprised to see that it was virtually closing down by 5pm. The seaside town definitely had a sense of calm – to the point where the 2-story restaurant that I went to did not have anyone working downstairs; a faint bell helped to alert the receptionist that I had walked in – and ready to devour an entire mozzarella and avocado pizza all by myself.
After dinner, I ventured to a market, where I met Asanda. I was originally really trying to haggle for the best price on this wooden plate that I wanted for my mother – when I realized that Asanda had a good energy about her. I shifted my attention to inviting her out that night, which she responded to by saying a really vivid, ‘rreaaly? – ok, but I have to ask my husband. He has a store across the street.’ He very happily agrees and she tells me to meet her back at the store in an hour at 7pm.
During that time, I walk to the nearby supermarket, where I am surprised to see that there are no Africans on the covers of any of the dozens of magazines at the store (in a country where 90% of the people are not Afrikaans). After speaking to the cashier about safety in the area after dark, she offered to walk me back to meet Asanda in front of the store, although it was only two blocks away. I offered her cup of the wine that I had purchased, saying that she hadn’t had wine in months – the reason why? I didn’t ask.
I met Asanda and her three sisters who graced me with such vibrant energy the entire night. With them, I danced, played pool and just had an overall great night out.
Andre drove me back to Cape Town early the following morning, after saying bye to Diane who gave me a pamphlet like one I had seen many times by the Jehovah Witness ‘disciples’ that would come to my home door numerous times throughout my childhood. The talk continued in the car with Andre, who surprised me with the fact that Jehovah Witnesses have the largest printing facilities in the world, translated in over 300 languages. He also shifted to talking to me about why he decided to home school his children (since they were already able to read and write by the age of 4) – and about how before he met me he was able to learn about my program through my email and able to find my picture on Google – knowing exactly how I looked when he picked me up at the port.
Perhaps the most poignant thing I learned about Andre was what made his relationship with Diane so powerful, according to him, it’s: “taking the romance out of it and picturing yourself living day to day with this person; it’s unity of purpose and a common solution to problems”
After a failed attempt at meeting up with my friends, I spent the day alone, wandering through the waterfront, having my last sip of South African wine, and successfully finding the ostrich egg carved in the shape of a globe.
BEST FOOD HAD: Gluten Free (Mozzarella, Dried Tomato, and Avocado) Pizza
FAVORITE CITY: Hermanus, South Africa (in the Western Cape)
FAVORITE THING DONE: Meditating on the beach
Interesting things learned about South Africa:
South Africa has 3 capitals – one for each: legislative, executive, and judicial centers of the country
Apartheid was legally consecrated and mandated for 350 years
When Obama spoke at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the crowd was furiously clapping, but when Jacob Zuma spoke, he was booed off the stage.
Jacob Zuma became president after a withdrawn rape claim – during his presidency, education, health, safety, security, unemployment, management inefficiency and corruption have all gotten worse
Many regarded Mandela as a terrorist by most of the western world, including Reagan; he was, in fact, the founder of a revolutionary army.
People known as the ‘Poo Protesters’ protest by throwing urine and feces in front of the mayor’s office, as a way to raise awareness and galvanize change relating to the plumbing and sewage systems in the townships
Apartheid was so confusing. People were classified based on the color of their skin: white, black, colored, – what do you do about Indians, Chinese, mixed people? Apparently, Indians and mixed people alike were ‘colored’, the Indians having their own category, Japanese were white, and Chinese were ‘colored’ individuals.
History books are being rewritten – there’s a new history that now exists in the books, including teachings of Apartheid
Our lecturer described South Africa like a hormonal self-destructive monster. According to him, easterners are moving west; southerners are moving north; the colonized are moving towards their colonizers – and we’re passing laws/ visas etc. to keep them out, which he believes it the modern-day apartheid – but ‘apartheid doesn’t work, and we know that’. This leads to conflict in this ‘troubled, global village of ours’
He questioned how democratic South Africa truly is if the current political party has 75% of the vote?
He emphasized how when there’s no borders, people are terrified, but it can be successful, the European Union being a prime example.
South Africa has a high prevalence of xenophobic violence – violence from black Africans in South Africa towards other black foreigners who are accused of taking their jobs and ‘stealing’ their women.
It was very difficult for travelers during Apartheid; white Americans could move around freely, whereas black Americans were confined to certain parts of the country
Our South African lecturer for the ship was 30 years old when he realized that he did not interact with the majority of the population; all black people had to be off the streets by 7pm, or else they were arrested; racial segregation was law; ‘no wonder then that I grew up as a racist’ – I was conditioned to be this way; ‘for twenty years, I was fed the poison of apartheid, and it’ll take just as long to rid myself of that poison’ – He says that unlike his children who were born after apartheid and are ‘born frees’, he has to recognize his assumptions and challenge his presuppositions
People say ‘pleasure’ all the time – it’s the primary way of saying ‘you’re welcome’, which I find is so cute!
Ubuntu is a common South African term meaning: a person is a person through another person
About what it means to be white in Africa — “It’s about being human beyond the things that separate us… while there’s nothing wrong with being white, it can’t be what defines us; if you ask a white man, race doesn’t matter to him, but if you ask someone who isn’t white, race does matter”
An anti-rape condom, which attacks male genitals ‘like a porcupine’ was developed in Cape Town
South Africa has the highest number of reported rapes in the world; only 7% of them result in conviction
In the townships, women have a 75% chance of being raped multiple times in their lives
HIV meds didn’t come as early as they should’ve (like they did in other democratic countries like Ghana)– so many lives would’ve been spared in that case
Most women who are raped are lesbian because of the thought of ‘raping them straight’
In South Africa, it’s a courtesy thing to put hazard lights on when bypassing someone on the highway; the driver acknowledges and appreciates your concern by flashing their headlights
80% of people live on the bread line
Today, the government is creating many homes to fight poverty in the townships. Many of the families are choosing to rent out these homes and to create tent communities attached to the new homes in order to make some money.
There was not one place I drove through or past in the Western Cape that did not have fantastic infrastructure, in terms of great roads and buildings.
What ‘went wrong’ after Mandela’s presidency: a honey moon period after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was not 100% successful, as moneys were not appropriately allocated
South Africa was founded as a business opportunity to sell fruit to the ships with people trying to get to India who were often ill with Scurvy because of lack of vitamin C because they didn’t have any fruit.
Some people prefer staying in the townships because once they move away from them, they have to pay taxes and pay maintenance fees for their homes.
After Apartheid, all boycotts and sanctions were repealed in South Africa
South Africa is known as the only country that has four seasons in one day, which I realized was true when I woke up each morning to rain, and ended the day with a beautiful breezy sunset after a blazing afternoon heat. This is why, when you decide to do any outdoors activity like going to the beach, you need to go immediately.
For me, Ghana was going back to a place that had admittedly changed the course of my life – where I thought of the business plan, and the country that brought me back to it and to another Semester at Sea. In many ways, things were the same, and for the first time, I felt a piece of home, as I was reunited with the wonderful family that I stayed with when I Couchsurfed for the first time (see my first Ghana post). This time, I went on a tour with Fred and his tour company to the Senase village that many of my friends raved about in 2012 – a quotidian experience there really gave me a glimpse of what the majority of Ghana is probably like – 10 hours away from where the ship docked paved the way for all the difference.
This time, after spending a very enlightening day learning about other entrepreneurs at, Hub Accra, Ghana’s first entrepreneurship incubator. I was talking to a guy who had asked me about my first time in Ghana, at which point he asked me whether or not I was friends with Alanna – like one of my favorite people in this world, Alanna- like SAS ’12 sisters, Alanna. It turned out that he was the Couchsurfer that I had connected her at that time, and he just happened to be at the incubator that day… the way the world works just continues to amaze me.
Olivia and Oliver picked me up, us bonding and catching up, as I would with a family member back home. She scanned my fingers (I tend to bite them when I’m nervous/anxious/bored), and to her surprise, they were much better than they were two years ago.
We stopped by her mom’s house, where her grandma continued to sing the same songs that she sang two years ago to herself – she didn’t look that much older or different, nor did the home or Ghana. I was different though: this time, I was less uncomfortable, and graciously accepted my dinner over a conversation that wasn’t at all awkward – and in all ways, familiar. It was months since I had felt this way: familial. And it felt, oh, so comforting and peaceful.
I spent the night, as I would at home, with no worries about where to go or what to do – I briefly connected with my friends and family and did some necessary tasks online – for one of the few times in the voyage, not expecting the WiFi to cut out or to be rushed – it’s crazy to see what becomes valuable to you when you travel.
I spoke to Ophelia about her thoughts and aspirations, and remembered how big my global family has become. Getting a glimpse into her life was almost like getting a glimpse back into the life that I had left behind two years ago.
A peaceful conversation ended the night that to me, was the biggest ‘break’ and night of normality I had since the voyage began: I didn’t feel like I had to go anywhere or do anything; I wasn’t missing out: it was just me and the couch.
I woke up to a rooster, driving back to the ship at 5:30am where we would meet some other SASers whom I would spend the next three days with. After much debate, I ended up going with Fred instead of Asomah, since Asomah’s tour was pretty crowded… but mostly because Fred wanted to spend time with me.
We spent most of the day driving (10 hours), with a (buffet) lunch break in between and a visit to a school where we donated thousands of new uniforms to children in need.
Once at the village, we had a nice welcoming dinner outside – It was so dark in the village that I could barely see what I was eating, but as a vegetarian, I recognize (delicious) rice and beans from a mile away.
The following morning, I joined Fred and Barbara to meet the chief of Senase, whom I learned was selling a piece of land to Barbara for the purpose of creating a boarding school home/community in Senase.
After the meeting at the chief’s home, we toured part of the enormous property on our way to the school that Fred had helped to build with the funds from his tour company. As the days went on, he just continued to amaze me. Just in 2009, he was as much a part of this village as any of the other boys and girls whose classroom was once a wooden shack.
At the inauguration of the school, we were welcomed with performances and chants that brought the entire village together.
Hands down, the best part of it all was being able to sit and hold the hand of this lovely one:
The ceremony ended with the chief of the village gifting us a goat, which was, in fact dinner that night…
Even more sensitive to the situation than I was, Barbara couldn’t stand to hear the goat squealing to death, so I accompanied her into the village where we bought some wine and chatted under a tree that overlooked the soccer field. Children from the village joined us, teaching me how to ‘Azonto’ – one of them eventually chugging the boxed wine that was at our feet and immediately spitting it back out in disgust… we tried to warn him!
A soccer/kickball game in the field led to another peaceful dinner in the dark before we headed to a local bar for some drinks. I danced a bit with Fred but ended the night relatively early for a church service the following morning.
After a very interactive church service on Palm Sunday, we continued to drive the 10 hours back to Takoradi where the ship awaited us. Between semi-interrupted naps and bathroom breaks, Fred and I really bonded. I told him about my life and he filled me in on his – so many of the questions that I didn’t even know I had were suddenly answered.
He told me about: how he ran into SASers in 2009 at an ATM while he was in tourism school, and how they asked if they could be his first tour group – about how that inspired Can do Land Tours – about how Ashley on that tour group sent him the $30 he needed for his X-rays after an accident that happened a few months later – about how she fell gravely and he sent her $700 to repair her home. She ended up painting her room in his favorite colors.
Because he is a good member of this earth – the earth has rewarded him with nothing but goodness. In 2009, he started his tour company. In 2011, he met a man on SAS who sponsored his schooling in Turkey. Currently, he studies in London (sponsored by another SAS lifelong learner – Barbara) with plans to finish his degree at the University of San Diego, but not before going on SAS this summer – he deserves that and more.
I woke up exhausted from all the driving, deciding to ‘just go out for Wifi’ near the port. Christina and I ended up postponing our departure so long that we decided to stay at the port, where a market was set up right outside of the ship. That decision resulted in one of the best days of my time in Ghana: I traded the shoes (that I got for free in Myanmar after I had fallen at the monastery and broken mine) for 5 headbands, bought a stand for my mom, and got a copper bangle – but most importantly, I made friends with most of the vendors, who entertained us with their drums and unique instruments – and I learned how to properly hold a baby in a piece of fabric!
Interesting things learned about Ghana:
People watch Spanish soap operas (dubbed in English) all the time
Never ever raise your left hand; it’s considered very rude- people get kicked out of school for this reason. (at one of the schools that I went to, people kept wanting to shake my hands, I ‘ran out of hands’ and gave my left hand to a little girl without noticing – no wonder her friend came and slapped it out of my hand…)
People have prom in Ghana
‘If you’re lucky to catch a funeral/wedding, you can see local people dancing’
Most people rent homes from landlords – if wealthy enough, one buys land first then makes the home on the land
Goats are highly prized: check this guy out riding a motorcycle with it
It took me two years to get to Morocco. On my first SAS voyage, we were redirected from Morocco to the Canary Islands because of an ignorant video that a guy posted on Youtube about Mohammad, causing uproars at US Embassies throughout the Arab world. Morocco was the country that I was most excited for on our itinerary; so needless to say, I was pretty disappointed with this outcome, my friends and I vowing to return to the port together. That is precisely what happened: less than two years later, I found myself in Casablanca.
Fun/ Cool / Enlightening Stuff done:
It actually took two years and 4 hours for me to get to Casablanca: the strict port immigration had every single person in the ship having to wait in line to have her passport stamped. Once out of the port, my friends and I had the ‘best’ haggling experience in SAS history, as one of the cab drivers tried to charge us each $20 to get to the train station, which was 5 minutes away … not even in London. The driver that we got graciously understood our desperate situation to get to Marrakech in time for the camel trek that my friend Andrea had planned. Not even him running over a few red lights help us to make our train, which we literally missed by 30 seconds.
In the meantime, I went to a small grocery store, where I asked the owner what chocolate he suggested that I have. He emphasized that the one that I was pointing to was for men, and that although I could buy it, it wasn’t for women. What did I do? I bought three, one for myself and two for my girlfriends, which we consumed in front of him at his store. Perhaps it was a bit culturally insensitive on our part, but the underlying sexism was something that really struck me.
A nice lunch and two hours later we were back at the train station, boarding the 4-hour train in the beyond-scorching-heat of the AC-less cart where we were. But it was ok. We entertained ourselves by catching each other up on the voyage – both SAS and life.
After being greeted by our tour guide and dropping our things off at the hotel, Stephanie, Andrea and I had a mini-SAS ’12 reunion, having an authentic Hammam experience, where we were taken to by three adorable young’ins.
In nothing but tiny disposable underwear, two women scrubbed us, gave us a mud bath, and then continued to massage us and give us pedicures. It is probably the cleanest my body has ever been…
Sifting thereafter through the markets of Marrakech,
we found ourselves hungry and quickly satisfying our cravings with everything Moroccan: from couscous to mint tea and delicious tanginess.
Our second day in Morocco was filled with a lot of driving – but beautiful driving, nonetheless – through montains and valleys, streams and to where I bought way-too-much’s worth of the magical Argan oil. I thought I got an amazing deal on it: 20% off, when I got back to the bus and all of my friends claimed to have gotten the same deal…
In the middle of the desert, we had lunch, where I met a guy who called me ‘Fatima’ – his response to him calling me this being that, ‘in Morocco, when you don’t know a girl’s name, you call her Fatima, and if you don’t know a guy’s name, you call him Muhammad.’ I found this to be quite comical. He was the same guy who tried to convince me to buy a 3000 euro compass used only ‘by desert peoples in the desert’, over some tea, which he really seemed passionate about having us try.
After some more amazing sights of rose valleys and streams, we checked into a really authentically beautiful hotel, Kasbah Auberge Tifawen, etched into the side of a mountain where we saw thousands of stars from our balcony and had dinner for hours before a hookah party.
On the following morning, we drove to where the village met the sand dunes, which we traversed on camel back for 2 hours. We were led by two nomads, who escorted us with music on their phones.
Once at the tent village where we were to stay, we dropped our bags and headed for the sand dunes on the 3 sand boards, which the camels had helped us lug in. We road them the way they were supposed to ridden, but then resorted to sitting on them – alone, and in groups of two and three – hands down one of my most memorable experiences of the voyage – that and partaking in a drum circle with the nomads and sitting under the stars atop of one of the tallest sand dunes.
An early morning led us back out to the village, once again on camelback, beginning our journey back to Marrakech, where the group split off from Andrea, Stephanie and I to return to Casablanca. We ended up returning to the market and checking into one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to – hidden under a mound was the entrance to our riad, which was one of the most traditionally beautiful places I’ve seen. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.
We went out to a club that was too posh for our attire and for our mentality that night, so we ended up leaving the Couchsurfer that Andrea had found for us – although I was really feeling the belly dancing and violin performance before the western music started going off.
The night ended with a long and necessary catch-up session on the rooftop of our riad, which seems to be a common place to hang out in each one of them.
An early train back to Casablanca still only granted us enough time to have a final lunch together and to tour the ship with Andrea, before parting ways from her.
Stephanie and I made our way to the 2nd largest mosque in the world, the Hassan II mosque, but we didn’t have enough time to tour it inside, so we decided to go to a market instead, where my bargaining skills were seriously tested, as I tried desperately to haggle with this guy that would absolutely not budge.
The haggling took so long that Stephanie and I had to rushhh to get back to the ship in time, but first, making a pit stop at Olivieri, which was said to have the best ice cream in Morocco – and that, in fact might be the case. This creamy deliciousness was the perfect end to an amazing port and to the official part of voyage.
Morocco definitely left me wanting – I plan to come back in November, whenever I have a break from my job in France, where I’ll be teaching during the next academic year.
Best Food Had: Vegetable Couscous
Favorite City: Marrakech
Favorite Thing Done: Staying in the desert – sand duning and watching the stars
Interesting things learned about Morocco:
The longest free trade treaty the US has is with Morocco
Morocco holds the largest reserve of phosphates in the world, which originate from fossils of fish and dinosaurs; they’re now used as fertilizers and detergents
Wifi is extremely pervasive and mostly open/free in cafes
Morocco has amazing infrastructure
The country has served as a model for ethnic and religious coexistence, Sufism beeing a source of that peace
Immigration forms are written in Arabic, French, & Spanish before English
The tour guide did not think it was at all ok for my two guy friends to share a bed
A popular greeting is an individual having his hand over his chest, meaning ‘I greet you from my heart’
US: social distance = 3 feet; Morocco: social distance = 1-2 feet
Turning down tea at a shop is ok, but at someone’s home, it’s considered rude
Drinking outdoors is illegal – it’s ok in large hotels/lounges —
Inviting someone for an alcoholic drink can be offensive, unless he/she is having one
Cats are everywhere
Only 3 people are allowed in your average small taxis
For me- it represented the end of the voyage- my collegiate journey that had wonderfully taken me from semester to semester – sometimes into new and distant lands. I was going back to the familiar, at this point for an unquantified amount of time.
I had booked my flight via Iceland Air, which I heard would let me extend my layover for free if I wanted to spend more time in Iceland. Unfortunately, since I had booked it with Expedia and not directly through the airline, this wasn’t the case, but I had already done enough research on the country to get me excited about going, so I did!
Fun/ Cool / Enlightening Stuff done:
After waiting over 4 hours at the airport, where our shuttle dropped us of, Stephanie and I set off to our quaint Z Hotel in Soho, where we had our luggage picked up to be shipped home. We planned, among all things to have dinner and to meet up with our friends for one last ‘SASsy night out’. We ended up having the complimentary wine and cheese at our hotel – eating at a Japanese restaurant – and royally passing out until the next day. There is no doubt in my mind that the past 4 months caught up to us. If it had been a few months, or even a few weeks back – we would’ve been able to stay up all night and get up for an early tour. Nope, not anymore.
On my last day in London, I was able to meet my friends who studied with me in France. We ventured through the vibrant Camden market, where we ate and sat by the river as we recounted stories. Catching up really made the time feel so fleeting, but so connected. At the time that we were together in Paris, I had no idea that I would be doing another Semester at Sea…
I left them to meet up with my friend Heather from the ship, whose hand I held tightly as she gripped with fear the needle that would leave in her a nose piercing. There weren’t any pictures allowed to be taken, but I can tell you that I absolutely love the way that it came out.
No one else was really interested in going, but having seen the film 5 times, nothing was stopping me from seeing Les Miserables in theatres. It was totally worth it: even after someone was in my seat with a ticket that we were both sold on the black market, and the performance had to pause 3 times due to technical difficulties.
At night, I went with Stephanie to Ministry of Sound, which is supposed to be one of the world’s top nightclubs. Fred, who’s studying in London from Ghana. It was a good night – not an overly crowded night, but one with enough dancing people, and certainly good sound.
On my last day in London – I decided to say goodbye to Heather and Christina, whom despite our plans to hang out, I did not see until today. That meant saying goodbye to Stephanie – with whom I had spent most of my time on the ship, and in country with – just like that, a hug later, I said goodbye to one of the most influential people of the voyage, and at this moment in my life. It’s crazy what traveling does to your mind.
I met Heather and Tina briefly at Hyde Park, splitting off at the Big Ben – where Christina and I headed towards the river, eventually having a heart to heart over wine.
Almost out of a movie – we split at the Waterloo train station, with no time for emotional reflection, since I had to run to the airport – taking a train there with my three gigantic luggages.
I made it to Iceland, where I was welcomed by what I will consider the Midnight Sun, that is, until I see a better one. It was 11:47pm, and I could still see beautiful streaks of sun scattered across the sky ❤
I checked into my suuper hipster hostel, KEX, which I learned was just a microcosm of the entire city…
I met Alexa Stroh for lunch, who I met through Couchsurfing and who sailed on the SAS ’12 voyage. Currently, Alexa interned at the American embassy in Reykjavik, where she would live for the next month. Despite our birthplaces and our current locations in life – SAS really has a way to connect people – the shared experience made everything else that was foreign about each other seem oh so familiar. Within minutes, I felt like I had known her forever.
Together, we explored the area, had amazing Thai food, and ended up at a super quaint coffee shop, where she left me to go back to work. I entertained myself booking things for my next few days in Iceland and walking around where I purchased a snow globe to add to my collection.
I contemplated getting a tattoo, decided against it, and got the famous Skyr yoghurt-like concoction Icelanders are famous for, and which was absolutely delicious.
I met up with Alexa and her friend at another coffee shop after work; they drove me to a beautiful lighthouse, which was just awesome as the sun set.
Goo, as I amiably called her friend recounted the story of the 3000-person island where he was from – where the puffins would crash into following the glow from the sun. They wouldn’t be able to fly again until the children resuscitated them and helped them to regain strength.
They drove me back to the hostel, where I joined the two guys who I was sharing a room with at the hostel for a walk. They got the world-famous ‘Reykjavik’ hot dogs, while I took in the view.
I woke up early for the Gulfoss /Circle tour, which I was told was a must in Southern Iceland: I could see why.
The entire day was spent going to beautiful places and taking in beautiful sights – waterfalls, mountain ranges, earth splits, geysers, and a greenhouse which cultivates tomatoes and cucumbers.
Nature at its finest.
I met up with Alexa again who joined me at the hostel for dinner before meeting up with three Couchsurfers at another super quaint coffee shop. Iceland really is great with them! We talked with the three ladies, who equally shared a passion for travel, and whose lives had all brought them to Iceland.
The night ended early, beautifully so – with a peaceful rest and a hostel room for 4 all to myself.
I woke up ‘early’ to go to the thrift shop up the block from the hostel – I was able to find a dress for graduation and a pair of shoes before my tour came to pick me up for whale watching. I didn’t see any whales, but I did meet a super nice Italian girl who is conducting research in Iceland on whales and who offered to hang out with me that night.
I got back to Reykjavik to say goodbye to Alexa, but not before going with her to the world’s only Penis museum, where despite our concern only had one human penis – and it was, in fact donated. The same cannot be said about he hundreds of animal penises, including those of whales, horses, lions and the like.
The night ended at the ‘English Pub’, where an old English entertained me with really great conversation and reflective questions about the end of my voyage. It was all great until I saw him trying to roofie my drink… I was about 95% sure, so I didn’t want to cause a scene… I heard it was sort of a thing in Iceland, but jeezzz.
My last day of the trip and of the voyage could not have been spent any better: on my way to the airport, I accepted a package deal to go to the Blue Lagoon, which is a lagoon created from the geothermal waters of a nearby plant.
There, I ran into the two Singaporean guys that I had met the day before whale watching: talk about serendipity? No, Iceland is probably just way to predictable… we spent the next few hours chatting it up about the US/Singapore, until they left for the airport.
I relaxed a bit more on my own, contemplating my going home- not wanting to wait any longer to.
Graced by calm warmness, I was ready to go home.
Best Food Had: Vegetarian ‘Steak’ in Reykjavik
Favorite City: Both were equally awesome; I’d like to see London in the winter and Reykjavik in the summer
Favorite Thing Done: The Golden Circle Tour in Iceland
Interesting things learned about Iceland:
Iceland changed my whole perspective on expensive. I felt like what it must feel like for a person coming from an underdeveloped nation visiting the US; it wasn’t that the places that I frequented were touristic and expensive, or that the exchange rate made them so; they were expensive because Iceland is relatively expensive compared to the US, in part because they have to import so many of their goods as an island. I paid the equivalent of $44 for a drink…
Iceland’s mission it to be self sufficient, mostly because they’re so isolated
Their exports consist of fish and aluminum
The unemployment rate was 1% before crisis of 2008 financial vs. 10% a year after the crisis – 8000 people left to work in Norway; in 2014 it is 4.2%
Iceland is plastic based- it is a ‘no cash’ system, where it is difficult to find an ATM- there were about 2 that I saw in the entire city of Reykjavik
Icelandic farmers supply 50% of all of their produce, the goal being to be completely independent and sustainable in the coming years
Farmers would get money from the state if they built churches on their land, so there’s a lot of churches scattered throughout various farm lands: the country is 99% Lutheran, 1% Catholic.
60% of people believe in elves hidden in stones —- when building roads, they go around the stones
Icelandic farmers supply 50% of all of their produce, the goal being to be completely independent and sustainable in the coming years
Swimming: children have swimming tests every year until 16 because sailors would constantly drown in the Atlantic not knowing how to swim; swimming is a huge cultural thing: there are over 173 public swimming pools in the country, at least one in every village/town
Reykjavik is so safe that people leave their children in carriages outside: Alexa warned me about this one
Reykjavik is the most spread out cities in the world
Despite it being so expensive overall, Iceland is relatively cheap when it comes to rent and buying land, partly because they have so much.
People with kids live in apartment buildings right in front of the kindergartens – this avoids kids missing school because of snow; these apartments are located near the city, so parents can go to work and kids can walk home
Volcano eruptions occur every 5-10 yrs — no one has died since the 18th century, so people are actually excited when they happen
Iceland powers a lot with geothermal plants that provide hot water and electricity, making electricity really affordable in Iceland – hot water only loses one degrees centigrade when it travels from the plants to peoples’ home because it’s so well insulated. Iceland has the biggest geothermal energy in the world, exporting its knowledge to over 49 other countries, sponsored by the UN.
Because of the use of clean energy and its geographic location, Reykjavik is considered to be the cleanest city in the world
Icelanders really love their horses. There are about 320,000 people in Iceland and about 80,000 horses. – that’s a 1:4 ratio! They love them so much that there’s a law that says that Icelandic horses are not allowed to mix with horses of other races, so when people bring their horses out of Iceland for competition, they can’t bring them back to the country.
Because of the geothermal power, hot water in Iceland is really hot!!
On books: Icelanders are the only people who can still read their folk tales because the language is so well preserved; books are still the #1 Christmas gift to give